Tuesday, January 26, 2016
"Congressionally Mandated Task Force Calls for Bold Transformation of Federal Corrections System"
The title of this post is the headline of this press release which summarized the contents and import of a new report released this morning by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. Here are excerpts from the press release (which includes a link to the report):
Today, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections issued a set of bold recommendations to reform the federal justice system, enhance public safety, and save the government billions of dollars. In a new report, Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives, the Congressionally mandated blue-ribbon panel released the findings of its year-long investigation into the nation’s overcrowded and costly federal prisons....
“We have laid out a detailed roadmap of ambitious, consensus-based recommendations that place public safety first while reserving prison for those who truly need it,” said task force chair, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma J.C. Watts, Jr. “If taken together, these reforms are projected to reduce the federal prison population by 60,000 people in the coming years and save more than $5 billion.”
Congress established the bipartisan panel in 2014 in response to mounting concerns about the scale and cost of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which currently houses 197,000 people with a budget of almost $7.5 billion this year. Alan Mollohan, the task force’s vice-chair, said that the seven-fold increase in the BOP’s population since the 1980s is unsustainable.
"The BOP has been operating at crisis levels for decades," said Mollohan, a former Democratic congressman from West Virginia. "As a result, its policies and practices have not kept up with best practice in the field, presenting a missed opportunity to rehabilitate those who are confined in federal prisons and thus promote public safety.”...
In the report, the task force recommends that the federal justice system move away from its current “one size fits all” approach to meting out punishment and delivering treatment and programs. Instead, they advise that sentencing decisions and correctional responses be based on the individual case–an approach grounded in research evidence as the most effective means of reducing recidivism.
Observing that prison is expensive and imposes tremendous harm to individuals, families, and communities, the Task Force recommends that prison sanctions be used sparingly and long terms of incarceration be reserved for only the most serious federal crimes. They advise incentivizing participation in programs that are proven to lower recidivism and increase the odds of success for individuals reentering society. And, in following the example of successful reforms in states like Texas, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, they advocate for a more diversified, evidence-based approach to criminal justice that delivers public safety at less cost.
In more specific terms, the Task Force recommends that:
- Mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses should be reserved for “drug kingpins”–those found to have served a leadership role in a large cartel;
- Program and treatment participation in prison should be incentivized through earned time off one’s sentence; and
- The BOP should better assess the risks, needs, and assets of its population and align programming and treatment accordingly to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety.
Along with the release of this important report, J.C. Watts, the chair of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, authored this Washington Post commentary headlined "Prisons are full of low-level offenders. It’s time to rethink federal sentencing laws.: Americans believe in redemption, but for too long, our reflexive reliance on incarceration has left us little room to show it."
January 26, 2016 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)
Monday, January 25, 2016
Helpful accounting by Pew Charitable Trusts of huge state-level reforms resulting from Justice Reinvestment Initiative
The good folks at Pew recently released these two helpful mini-reports that provide a summary accounting of lots of the criminal justice reform work that has been done by states in recent years through the so-called Justice Reinvestment Initiative:
- States Modify Sentencing Laws Through Justice Reinvestment
The first of these linked documents has a pdf version with huge chart with lots of interesting specifics under the heading "Sentencing and Corrections Reforms in Justice Reinvestment States." Anyone eager to get a feel for just some of the massive criminal justice reforms that have taken place in the states over the last decade ought to check out this document. And the document has this overview discussion at the outset:
Since 2007, 31 states have reformed their sentencing and corrections policies through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership that includes the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Crime and Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, and other organizations. Although reforms vary from state to state, all aim to improve public safety and control taxpayer costs by prioritizing prison space for serious and repeat offenders and investing some of the savings in alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders that are effective at reducing recidivism.
Justice reinvestment policies generally fall into four categories: sentencing laws that instruct courts about how to sanction convicted defendants; release laws that determine the conditions for offenders’ departure from prison; supervision laws that guide how those on probation or parole are monitored; and oversight laws that track the progress of these changes.
In the years since the wave of reforms began, the total state imprisonment rate has ticked downward while crime rates have continued their long-term decline. At the same time, states that have enacted justice reinvestment laws expect to save billions of dollars as a result of their reforms.
The second document linked above drills down a little deeper into sentencing-specific reforms, and a quick review of the state-by-state changes suggests that even more "red" states have been involved in making sentencing reforms through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative than "blue" states.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Making a pitch for judicial second looks while asking "Did I Sentence a Murderer or a Cooperative Witness?"
The question in the second half of the title of this post is the headline of this New York Times commentary authored by Stefan Underhill, a federal district judge in Connecticut. But the headline does not reflect what thus commentary is really about: it makes a pitch for creating a significant new judicial second-look mechanism in federal sentencing. I recommend this commentary in full, and here are excerpts:
In 2006, I sentenced a man to 18 years in prison. I have been wrestling with that decision ever since. As a federal district judge, I’ve sentenced hundreds of people, but I’ve rarely agonized as much as I did over this man’s fate.
He was the enforcer for a brutal gang of drug dealers in Bridgeport, Conn., known as the Terminators, and had sold heroin, assaulted rival dealers and murdered a potential witness. But after a falling-out with the head of the gang, he turned over a stash house to the police and fled the state. When captured in 2001, he immediately confessed to the murder and later testified as a star witness for the prosecution.
Thus arose my problem: He had committed horrible crimes, but he also seemed to be making an unusually sincere effort to atone for them. So which man was I sentencing? The murderer or the remorseful cooperator?
The prosecutor rewarded his cooperation by filing a socalled 5K motion, which allowed me to ignore the mandatory life sentence he otherwise would have faced. Still, after weighing the seriousness of his crimes, I sentenced him to 18 years, which was more time than even the prosecutor wanted....
In the years that followed, I often wondered whether his remorse was strong enough to overcome his past. In 2012, I had the chance to find out. While attending a conference on sentencing issues, I learned that he was serving time in a prison nearby. I wanted to know whether he had become a better citizen or a better criminal. So I asked a prison staffer if I could meet with him in private.
That the warden felt no need to post a guard was my first clue that he had changed for the better. He was working in his first real job at the prison industries factory and had been promoted to supervisor. He showed me recommendations from prison employees for good jobs on the outside. He brought a folder full of certificates he had earned for attending classes. He talked lovingly about his girlfriend and daughter, with whom he planned to live as a family after his release.
The meeting made me proud of his accomplishments, but sad that I had not been more confident in him. He still had several years left on his sentence, but it was clear that he had served enough time. After I returned to my office, I contacted the prosecutor and his lawyer and encouraged them to find a way to get him released early. But they told me there was no straightforward way to shorten a federal inmate’s sentence, even if prison officials acknowledge that more jail time is a waste of time and money. So he had to stay in prison, at an annual cost of $30,000 to taxpayers.
The tragedy of mass incarceration has recently focused much attention on the need to reform three-strikes laws, mandatory minimums and the federal sentencing guidelines, which often direct judges to impose excessive sentences. We also need a mechanism for judges to reevaluate the sentences they’ve imposed. It’s true that federal prisoners can earn up to 15 percent off the length of their sentences if they stay out of trouble. But this doesn’t incentivize prisoners to take advantage of work or study opportunities.
Instead, Congress should enact legislation that would allow every sentenced defendant one opportunity to petition his sentencing court for a reduction based on extraordinarily good conduct and rehabilitation in prison.
This “second-look review” should be available only to prisoners who are supported by their wardens. To minimize the increased workload on busy federal judges, each prisoner should be allowed only a single opportunity to seek early release and do so only after serving at least half of the sentence imposed (or two-thirds of a mandatory minimum sentence).
Factors in support of an early release should include more than just clean disciplinary records in prison. Job readiness, success with drug treatment, completion of vocational and educational training and extraordinary family or health circumstances should count as well....
I don’t advocate for a return to the flawed federal parole system that was essentially abolished in the 1980s. In that system, a judge who believed that a defendant should spend three years locked up would impose a nineyear sentence because parole was likely to be granted after he served one-third of it. But if that defendant’s parole was delayed or denied, the judge’s original intent was impeded. In contrast, my proposal would give the sentencing judge control. This makes sense because judges know whether a particular defendant got a break at sentencing or not and can best gauge the extent of positive change in a person....
A “second look” to adjust sentences would give inmates an incentive to prepare themselves for productive lives on the outside, and allow judges like me to correct sentences that turn out, in hindsight, to be unnecessarily long. This would improve the fairness of our criminal justice system and increase the public’s confidence in our courts.
UPDATE: Intriguingly, since I posted this piece, the New York Times changed its on-line headline to "Did the Man I Sentenced to 18 Years Deserve It?". And, echoing my own gut instincts, it seems that more than a few commentors think that someone who murdered a potential witness deserves at least 18 years in prison. In light of that view, I think the most notable aspect of this sentencing story is fact that the initial 18-year prison sentence "was more time than even the prosecutor wanted."
January 24, 2016 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)
Saturday, January 23, 2016
New Jersey appeals court upholds parole board's monitoring of sex offenders using lie detector machines
As reported in this local article from New Jersey, a local "appeals court on Thursday upheld the state Parole Board's use of polygraph tests to monitor sex offenders after their release from prison." Here is more about the extended ruling:
The panel of state judges largely rejected the argument of five sex offenders sentenced to lifetime supervision that the tests amounted to coerced interrogations that violated their constitutional rights. The court found, however, that the board must take steps to protect the offenders' right against self-incrimination and that the test results alone could not be used to justify punishment.
Under state law, all sex offenders sentenced to lifetime monitoring can be subjected to the examinations, popularly referred to as "lie detector" tests. The tests are used to help parole officers determine whether the offenders are adhering to treatment plans and the terms of their parole. But critics point out that the tests can be unreliable, and their results aren't allowed to be used as evidence in most criminal cases.
Currently, there are 7,469 offenders being monitored by the state that could be subject to polygraph tests. Samuel J. Plumeri, Jr., the vice chairman of the New Jersey State Parole Board, said in an e-mail the use of the tests was "dependent upon an assessment" of each offender's case....
A 2009 Parole Board report on the use of polygraph tests described them as "an essential tool" for monitoring sex offenders. The technology, the report found, "appears to encourage honesty with parole officers and treatment providers" and prevent convicts from re-offending.
But Michael C. Woyce, an attorney for the five sex offenders — whom the court identified only by their initials — argued the tests were unconstitutional because the subjects weren't permitted to have an attorney present, weren't read their Miranda rights and could face sanctions by refusing to answer "intrusive" questions. The Public Defender's Office, which also argued in the case, also called the tests both "unfair" and "extremely unreliable."
Woyce said the technology has largely fallen out of favor in criminal courts, but persists in the monitoring of sex offenders because of the stigma attached to their crimes. "Being labeled a sex offender is a scarlet letter," Woyce said. "Because of that, the courts often — not always, but often — treat them differently." Woyce said offenders who do not cooperate or perform poorly on the tests can have their access to the internet revoked, be prohibited from traveling out of state, or be subject to GPS monitoring without due process.
The court rejected the sex offenders' argument that they were entitled to have an attorney present during the tests under the Sixth Amendment, finding they were not the same as a criminal interrogation. "The subject can face later consequences if he chooses to leave before the examination is completed but, unlike an arrestee at a police station, he is not subject to immediate confinement if he refuses to cooperate," the judges wrote.
But recognizing that New Jersey courts consider polygraph test results "unreliable proof," the 72-page ruling prohibits parole officers from using them "as evidence to justify a curtailment of an offender's activities." If in the course of a polygraph an offender admits any wrongdoing, that could be used against them, however, and the court ordered the board to adopt "regulations and practices to protect the offenders' privileges against self-incrimination."
The full ruling in JB v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. A-5435-10T2 (NJ App. Jan. 21, 2016), is available at this link.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Expecting (too?) much crime and punishment talk at Prez Obama's last State of the Union
Long-time readers know that I am always hopeful that the annual State of the Union events will address criminal justice issues, and also that Prez Obama has been consistently disappointing in this respect with his prior SOTUs. But this year, for lots of reasons, I am expecting crime and punishment to play a big role in the final SOTU to be delivered by Prez Obama. One reason is because of a notable guest who will be there as reported in this BuzzFeed News piece headlined "Meet The Ex-Convict President Obama Will Host At The State Of The Union." Here is how the article gets started (with links from original):
On Tuesday, President Obama may include a renewed promise to change the way the criminal justice system deals with suspects, offenders, and convicts in his final State of the Union address. In the audience will be woman who has seen all sides of the justice system — and all after her 57th birthday. Sue Ellen Allen, who spent nearly seven years as an Arizona inmate in the state’s women’s prison near Goodyear will be among the president’s guests at the speech. Allen was raised middle class, lived wealthy, and lost it all on her way to being convicted in absentia of securities fraud while an international fugitive on the run with her husband who also served time for the crime.After she got out of prison, in 2009, Allen did everything she could to get back in and offer resources to women still behind bars that she believes will help them escape the recidivism cycle that traps many inmates in the justice system for years. Now she regularly returns to the prison that held her to run education and jobs programs for the women there. She says the experience of seeing another side of America was “a blessing” and that her new calling is part of making good on the lessons she learned behind bars. “I was well educated, I was privileged because I have white skin — I’m a white woman and that’s a privilege,” Allen told BuzzFeed News. “If you had told me what I was going to see and experience in prison, I would have said, ‘Not in my country. We don’t treat people that way.’ I was wrong.”
When Obama delivers the State of the Union speech, Allen will be there, seated in the House chamber in the Capitol. Presidents regularly use their guest list to highlight issues and policy goals, and Obama’s seventh address will be no different. (Obama is breaking the mold a little next week — one of his “guests” will be a seat intentionally left empty to highlight the Americans lost during his presidency to gun violence.)
But White House aides say the focus of the speech is different than other State of the Union speeches. Instead of the standard list of policy ideas and applause lines, senior administration officials say this State of the Union will be about the broad changes Obama promised in his first campaign and how they play into his presidential legacy.
Criminal justice is set to be a huge part of that legacy, and get a prominent place in the speech. The Obama administration has linked up with conservatives and liberals to push changes to the justice system aimed at reducing the number of people put in prison, the length of time nonviolent offenders spend there, and reducing the costs associated with a system that houses more inmates than any other country on earth. The Obama administration has attempted to address longstanding goals of criminal justice advocates at the highest levels — the administration has supported dramatic changes in the war on drugs and called for an end to many mandatory minimum prison sentences — and the lowest. Obama has taken interest in prison life, becoming the first president to visit a federal prison last July. He’s called for new anti-recidivism programs and more efforts to offer education and other assistance to people behind bars. Changing the way prisons work, the president has said, can reduce the number of people who go in, out and back into the system.
In addition to expecting Prez Obama to talk about criminal reform during his SOTU speech, perhaps we could hear mention of crime and punishment in the GOP response. At the very least, folks at FreedomWorks are suggested it should via this recent commentary headlined "Republicans Should Promote Justice Reform in State of the Union Response."
Saturday, January 09, 2016
"Keeping It REAL: Why Congress Must Act to Restore Pell Grant Funding for Prisoners"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by SpearIt now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA), a provision of which revoked Pell Grant funding “to any individual who is incarcerated in any federal or state penal institution.” This essay highlights the counter-productive effects this particular provision has on penological goals. The essay suggests Congress acknowledge the failures of the ban on Pell Grant funding for prisoners, and restore such funding for all qualified prisoners.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
"Reducing Crime Through Expungements"
The title of this post is the title of this timely and interesting (and perhaps controversial) new paper by Murat Mungan now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Expungements reduce the visibility of a person's criminal record, and thereby reduce the informal sanctions that may be imposed on him. This reduction is enjoyed by the ex-convict only if he does not become a repeat offender, because otherwise he re-obtains a criminal record. Thus, the value a person attaches to having his record expunged is inversely related to his criminal tendency.
Therefore, by making expungements costly, the criminal justice system can sort out low criminal tendency individuals — who are unlikely to recidivate — from people who have high criminal tendencies. Moreover, the availability of expungements does not substantially affect a first time offender's incentive to commit crime, because one incurs a cost close to the reduction in informal sanctions that he enjoys by sealing his criminal record. On the other hand, expungements increase specific deterrence, because a person who has no visible record suffers informal sanctions if he is convicted a second time. Thus, perhaps counter-intuitively, allowing ex-convicts to seal their records at substantial costs reduces crime.
Saturday, January 02, 2016
"Throwaway Children: The Tragic Consequences of a False Narrative"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Truth be told, we are afraid for our children and we are afraid of our children. The intersection of these disparate thoughts has produced a perfect storm. We have created increasingly harsh sex offender registration schemes to protect our children from sexual abuse. At the same time, fear of our children ensnares and punishes them under the very same laws that were designed to protect them. Yet, what compels action is premised on a false narrative that includes flawed studies on recidivism rates and misguided case decisions that embraced these findings.
In this article, I explore the inherently unfair and deeply flawed practice of mandatory lifetime registration for children who commit sex offenses. Examination reveals two fallacies in a system that condemns children to lifetime monitoring: the breadth of its ensnarement, and the presumption of a child’s continued sexual predatory behavior. Fueled by emotional rhetoric, both are tightly bound in a fundamentally false narrative that is unnecessary and wholly damaging for the child registrant.
The utility of an overly-simplified registration scheme comes with a hefty price tag: the acknowledgement that mandatory lifetime registration captures and shatters the lives of many non-dangerous children. It is a price tag we should no longer be willing to bear. In the face of overwhelming statistical evidence to the contrary, we must commit to changing the false narrative that children who commit sex offenses are presumed to become sexually dangerous adults. We must commit to replacing it with a narrative that acknowledges that recidivism rates are low and that mandatory lifetime registration is both unnecessary and devastating.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
How can a sex offender prove he is no longer a threat ... three decades after molesting a child?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article about a state court ruling from New Hampshire headlined "Judge rules convicted sex offender must remain on registry until he can prove he is no longer a threat." Here is the interesting backstory:
A Manchester sex offender convicted 28 years ago will remain a lifetime registrant unless and until he proves he is no longer a threat, which, at least for now, he can ask to do at any time, a judge in Concord has ruled. The decision, issued last week and distributed Monday by Merrimack County Superior Court, caps the latest phase in a years-long campaign by the man, identified by the court under the pseudonym John Doe, to become eligible for public housing.
Doe’s real name is Norman St. Hilaire. He has long pressed to be removed from the state’s public registry of sex offenders, arguing that his conviction predated its creation. More recently, though, he asked the court to table that question and instead recognize that a recent state Supreme Court decision effectively lifts his lifetime status -- a smaller change, but one that could be enough to secure him housing eligibility.
In his new ruling, Judge Richard McNamara quickly rejected the request, writing that the higher court’s decision allows St. Hilaire to change his status only if and when he proves he is no longer a threat. “If he never succeeds in showing that he is not a danger to the public, he must continue to register,” McNamara wrote. “It follows that the only accurate way to describe his status at the current time is that of a lifetime registrant.”
St. Hilaire is currently a Tier III “lifetime” offender, the state’s highest sex offender category. His attorneys had claimed he should no longer be classified as such because he now has the chance to petition to get off the registry, a privilege unavailable to Tier III offenders convicted after the registry’s creation in the early 1990s. Tier III offenders convicted today have no opportunities to get off the list.
St. Hilaire’s case was scheduled for an evidentiary hearing in November, but he backed out shortly before, citing his victim’s request to testify. She and victims advocates suspect he was worried she would easily derail the effort by describing the abuse and possibly disclosing new allegations (though the statute of limitations on new charges involving her has passed).
McNamara’s ruling was only a partial win for state prosecutors, who not only objected to St. Hilaire’s petition but also asked that he be barred from bringing another request for five years. Like the Supreme Court, McNamara deferred to the Legislature on that question, saying it’s their responsibility to set parameters for how frequent the reviews should be.
Several state lawmakers are proposing new parameters, and hearings on their legislation, sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and two dozen others, are expected to begin next month. The bill prohibits offenders from getting off the list if they have been convicted of serious crimes since their original convictions. Among other things, it also requires that victims get the chance to address the court, and that offenders whose petitions have been denied wait five years before petitioning again.
Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the proposed language mirrors the requirements in place for lower tiered offenders who want to be removed from the registry. Sexton called McNamara’s ruling “a big win for victims.”...
In arguing earlier this month for the five-year ban, Assistant Attorney General Dianne Martin said the victim, now in her 40s and living out of state, “had to go through preparation for this case, and she had to relive all the events that she suffered as a child.” She should not have to constantly wonder if and when St. Hilaire will bring another petition, Martin said.
Chapman countered that St. Hilaire, who is 66 and has physical disabilities, had no plans to request a hearing, but hoped to reserve the right to do so in case his physical condition deteriorates further. St. Hilaire has not been present for the court proceedings. He was arrested last month and charged with failure to register, a felony. Police have said he created a Facebook account but never reported it, as required. He is out on bail and was scheduled for an arraignment at the end of this month.
St. Hilaire was convicted three decades ago of molesting the woman when she was a young teen in Hooksett, once in 1983 at Lambert Park and again the next year at their home, where the woman’s mother and three other children also lived. He was placed on probation and ordered to attend sex offender counseling, which he did weekly for two years. In an interview last month, the victim said the abuse was far more pervasive than the convictions reflected. She said St. Hilaire sexually abused her numerous times over a decade, starting as a toddler and continuing into adolescence.
December 30, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11)
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Would-be Prohibition offenders make huge donation to ACLU help real ex-offenders
Via The Marshall Project, I just saw this Washington Post story, headlined "Total Wine co-founder funding $15 million push to aid ex-convicts," on a notable private funding effort for a notable public cause. Here are the details:
A Maryland couple is donating $15 million to the American Civil Liberties Union to expand a campaign to cut prison populations and promote private initiatives to rehabilitate and employ ex-convicts, the ACLU announced. The grant from David Trone, co-founder of Bethesda-based Total Wine & More, and his wife, June, is among the largest in the ACLU’s history.
The Trones, both 60, join a growing cadre of wealthy businesspeople funding a coalition of liberal, conservative and libertarian groups pushing the Obama administration and Congress to unwind sentencing laws from the era of the drug war. Those advocates argue that draconian punishments have gone too far and cost too much, incarcerating 2.2 million Americans, pouring $80 billion a year into prisons and jails and hollowing out families — particularly in low-income and minority communities.
David Trone, of Potomac, cited Total Wine’s support of the “ban the box” movement — which seeks removal of the criminal-record check box from job applications — as a factor in his gift and an example of what private-sector partners can accomplish. “Yes, people make mistakes,” he said. “But if they paid the price and now want to build a better life, why should that mistake have to carry with them the rest of their lives?”
The Trones’ grant comes one year after George Soros’s Open Society Foundations pledged $50 million over eight years to the ACLU’s political arm to push for sentencing and other criminal-justice policy changes in local, state and national elections. Unlike Soros’s grant, the Trones’ gift will pay for traditional ACLU litigation and educational activities and is tax-deductible.
The six-year bequest will establish the Trone Center for Criminal Justice and boost state-level projects — including ones in the District, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Indiana — where incarceration rates and the prospect of bipartisan cooperation are greatest, said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.
Romero said that while attention is focused on a gridlocked Congress, momentum for change is growing among state and local governments, which house more than 90 percent of the nation’s prisoners and spend more than 90 percent of incarceration-related tax dollars. He likened the momentum to the push for same-sex marriage, where business leaders who threatened to leave hostile states added an economic argument to the moral and legal case for anti-discrimination laws. “If business leaders take a big stake in pushing these reforms, it ensures the sustainability of long-lasting reform,” Romero said. “If you can tie the power of the private sector to this sled, then Congress and the president will be dragged into taking real action.”...
The ACLU said David Trone will chair a new private-sector advisory council that will include business and university leaders. The council will promote efforts to return former prisoners to the workforce and reduce the stigma of employing past offenders, Romero said. It also may consider the value of education and economic incentives such as tax credits for workers and companies. Council members include Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, and Paul Lewis Sagan, former chief executive of Akamai Technologies, the Web- content delivery company.
Ex-prisoners face a variety of federal and state rules that restrict their ability to get jobs, housing, student and business loans, occupational licenses and public assistance, said another member, Mark V. Holden. Holden is general counsel at Koch Industries, whose billionaire founders, Charles and David Koch, are key sentencing reform backers....
David and June Trone, who are graduates of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, have been longtime ACLU supporters, giving more than $1 million since 1994. David Trone said the new gift was timed as he and his brother, Robert, co-founders of the Total Wine chain, are bringing on a new chief executive so they can step back from daily operations. Total Wine has stores in 18 states, with 4,000 workers and $2.1 billion in annual sales. Romero said Trone’s success and status outside the “usual suspects” of supporters gives him added credibility with businesspeople.
The Trones were disrupters of the liquor industry. Their “big box” model of beer and wine stores triggered bitter battles with competitors and drew scrutiny from regulators and criminal charges related to volume discounts. Cases against the family were dismissed. One of David Trone’s attorneys, Roslyn M. Litman, is an ACLU board member.
“I was lucky. I had the resources and the representation to fight an injustice and win . . . [but] there are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t,” David Trone said. With the gift, he said, he hoped the ACLU “can stand up for those who are silenced . . . and figure out how folks who have made mistakes can become great workers with great jobs and drop recidivism.”
As the title of this post highlights, I think an interesting (and likely easily overlooked) aspect of this story is the fact that the Trones made their fortune through innovation in an industry that was entirely a criminal enterprise (and the progenator of considerable violent crime) less than 100 years ago during the Prohibition era.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
"Prisons as addiction treatment centers?"
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this local article from the Buckeye State. Here are excerpts:
With at least four of five inmates struggling with addiction, Ohio's prisons are beginning to look more like drug treatment centers.
Prisoners participate in group counseling sessions, visit with prison "alumni" who have remained sober after leaving incarceration and enroll in Medicaid to help pay for counseling and medication-assisted treatment after they are released. Money from the state budget, $27.4 million through June 30, is paying for more counselors to treat addiction inside Ohio's prisons, said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
The concept is relatively simple: people addicted to drugs commit crimes like possessing drugs, selling drugs, stealing money or property to buy drugs and hurting others because they are under the influence of drugs. Take away the compulsion for drugs and alcohol, and these lower-level offenders might not return to prison, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction director Gary Mohr said. "What we’re attempting to do is reduce crime victims out in Ohio," Mohr said.
Before changes in July, Ohio prisons were releasing 8,000 to 9,000 people with serious addiction problems each year without treating half of them, Mohr said. Staying for less than six months? You weren't eligible. Too many inmates on the waiting list? There wasn't not enough staff to help. Now, people who will be released in three months can start counseling in prison and have their medical records sent to a halfway house when they leave. By signing released prisoners up for Medicaid, the insurance program might pay for medication-assisted treatment and counseling — a combination considered by many physicians to be the gold standard of treatment.
"I can tell you right now we are going to be treating thousands of people that we weren’t treating before," Mohr said. When an inmate enters prison, he goes to a short-term reception center, and takes a test designed to spot mental health and addiction concerns. From there, he is sent to the prison where he will serve out his term. If the inmate isn't a violent offender, he might participate in a therapeutic community, groups of 70 to 180 inmates who live together, attend group counseling sessions and commit to good behavior while in prison, or a reintegration unit, where inmates work eight to 10 hours a day to simulate life outside prison.
Plouck wants to triple the number of inmates in therapeutic communities by mid 2017 by expanding the number of communities from four to eight. Madison Correctional Institution and Noble Correctional Institution are next on the list. In 2014, 569 inmates participated; by 2017, prison officials hope to have 1,500 enrolled.
Mohr also wants to have every prison enrolling eligible inmates in Medicaid by the end of 2016. Currently, 10 of 27 prisons are enrolling inmates in the low-income insurance program expanded by Gov. John Kasich. About 2,400 people have signed up since the program began in earnest this fall, Mohr said. Medicaid can pay for counseling and medication-assisted treatment after prisoners leave incarceration....
A smooth transition from treatment in prison to treatment outside of prison is critical. It's easy to remain sober in prison with no access to drugs or alcohol. The challenge comes when they are released back to homes where relatives or friends might still be using drugs or alcohol, Plouck said.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Could a profit motive help improve recidivism rates (and criminal justice programming more generally)?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing new article by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic headlined "A New Investment Opportunity: Helping Ex-Convicts; A New York program asks outsiders to fund a promising initiative to reduce recidivism. If it gets results, they get a payout." Here is how the article gets started:
Every year, the government spends billions of dollars on programs designed to help America’s neediest citizens. In many cases, whether these programs work is anyone’s guess.
Less than $1 out of every $100 of federal government spending is “backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely,” wrote Peter Orszag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, and John Bridgeland, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, in a 2013 piece in The Atlantic. In their article, Orszag and Bridgeland advocate for a “moneyball for government,” arguing that an era of fiscal scarcity should force Washington to become more results-oriented.
A new partnership among New York State, 40 private investors, and a nonprofit called the Center for Employment Opportunities seeks to apply this sort of thinking to an area of policy that has been particularly resistant to interventions: lowering the recidivism rate in an era of growing prison populations.
The investors, including private philanthropists and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, have put up a total of $13.5 million to fund an expansion of the work that an organization called the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) already does with people coming out of prison. CEO’s model is simple: It prepares people who have criminal records for the workplace, gives them up to 75 days of temporary employment, and then helps them find jobs of their own. With the $13.5 million, CEO will work with an additional 2,000 clients, targeting the highest-risk people.
But the expansion of the program isn’t charity: The project is a so-called “Pay for Success” initiative, modeled after social-impact bonds, which were first used in the United Kingdom five years ago. The basic idea is that investors fund a program that has a promising approach, putting in place extensive data-collection points so that they can track the program’s results. The investors are betting on the idea that the program can do a better — and less expensive — job of providing a given service than the status quo. If they’re right, and the program meets certain expectations — in this case the benchmarks for success are to reduce recidivism by eight percent and increase employment by five percent — the government will have saved money in less prison spending. The government then pays back the investors with its savings. If the program succeeds, investors can earn a return. If it exceeds those goals substantially, investors can get a bigger return, which in this case is capped at 10 percent. The state at no point spends more money than it would have spent incarcerating the 2,000 individuals anyway.
The Pay for Success strategy isn’t just a way to test CEO’s model. It’s a way to bring careful, data-based monitoring of a program’s effect into government spending.
There are dozens of programs that seek to help people re-enter the community once they’re released from prison. They provide job training and housing assistance and college-preparation classes and counseling. But a lot of people still end up back in prison. About 700,000 individuals are released from prison nationally each year; the national recidivism rate is about 40 percent.
CEO can make a dent in this, its backers say, because it gives its clients something more: a job. Clients come in, go through a week of job-readiness training, and then get a pair of steel-toed boots and a spot on one of CEO’s five-to-seven-person crews. The crews rotate through the city, cleaning courtrooms and performing maintenance on community-college buildings and public-housing properties.
Getting clients back into the workforce, even temporarily, is a key part of CEO’s program, Sam Schaeffer, the executive director of CEO, told me. People who have never worked, or who haven’t worked in decades find themselves furnished with a metro card, a place to be every morning, and a supervisor to report to. “You’re earning a daily paycheck, and all of a sudden you’re getting on the subway, with that metro card that you couldn’t afford two weeks ago and you're reading the paper, and you’re sort of like, ‘Yea, I can do this,’” he said.
Monday, December 21, 2015
NY Gov Cuomo moves ahead with significant clemency effort for youthful offenders and others
As reported in this official press release, titled "Governor Cuomo Offers Executive Pardons to New Yorkers Convicted of Crimes at Ages 16 and 17," the top elected official in New York today announced a major new clemency initiative. Here are just some of the details from the press release:
Governor Cuomo announced that he will use his pardon power to alleviate the barrier of a criminal conviction for people convicted of non-violent crimes committed when they were minors, and who have since lived crime-free for 10 or more years. This action, the first of its kind in the nation, advances the principles from his Raise the Age Campaign, which calls upon New York to join 48 other states in recognizing that 16 and 17 year old children do not belong in the adult court system.
The Governor’s action acknowledges that people can and do move beyond the mistakes of their youth, However, their adult criminal records can make it hard for them to find work, get admitted to college, find a place to live, and become licensed in certain occupations. The Governor chooses today to use his Constitutional pardon power to remove the bars created by state law that are associated with these convictions, and allow deserving individuals to move forward with their lives....
By pardoning New Yorkers who have reached this milestone crime-free, the Governor is helping people who present little danger to the public. Moreover, the pardon will be conditional, meaning that if a person defies the odds and is reconvicted, it will be withdrawn.
The Governor’s action will affect a significant number of lives. Of 16 and 17 year olds who committed misdemeanors and non-violent felonies since such records have been tracked by the state, approximately 10,000 have not been reconvicted after at least 10 years. Annually, approximately 350 people convicted as 16 and 17 year olds of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies remain conviction-free after 10 years. In addition to lifting the burden on these individuals themselves, their families will also feel the positive impact of this action. Now a son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother will be better equipped to help their loved ones as they find it easier to attain employment, go to school, find housing, and work in licensed professions....
Agency staff will make a recommendation to the Governor to grant a pardon if:
The person was 16 or 17 at the time they committed the crime for which they were convicted.
At least 10 years have passed since the person was either convicted of the crime, or released from a period of incarceration for that crime, if applicable.
The person has been conviction-free since that time.
The person was convicted of a misdemeanor or a non-violent felony.
The person was not originally convicted of a sex offense.
The person is currently a New York State resident.
The person has paid taxes on any income.
The person is a productive member of his or her community, meaning that the individual is working, looking for work, in school or legitimately unable to work.
In addition to this general invitation to apply, the Administration will do targeted outreach to candidates for the pardon, starting with the most recent cohort of potentially eligible individuals, those convicted in the year 2004. Administrative staff will review the cohort and will attempt to contact those convicted of qualifying crimes committed while they were 16 or 17 and who have stayed conviction-free. They will be informed of their initial eligibility for a pardon and invited to apply, using the website. Once the 2004 cohort has been contacted, the process will be repeated for individuals convicted in 2003, and further back until outreach has been made to all potential candidates.
The Governor’s action reinforces his commitment to alleviating barriers for people with criminal convictions, exemplified by his creation of the Council of Community Reintegration and Reintegration in 2014, and his acceptance and implementation of 12 recommendations for executive action from that Council in September of this year. These executive actions included adopting new anti-discrimination guidance for New York-financed housing, and adopting “fair chance hiring” for New York State agencies....
With assistance from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, representatives from the Governor’s Office have developed a comprehensive training program and will begin working with these associations to train volunteer attorneys via webinar in early 2016. Although individuals may apply for clemency without the assistance of an attorney, assistance from a pro bono attorney will enhance the quality of an inmate’s application and present his or her best case to the Governor. The New York County Lawyers Association, New York State Bar Association, New York City Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will prepare petitions for sentence commutations and the Bronx Defenders will provide post-petition legal services with respect to benefits, housing, and employment, for successful petitioners. The trainings, delivered via webinar with accompanying materials, will walk volunteer attorneys associated with the collaborating legal organizations through each step of being assigned a case, communicating with their client, and preparing a strong petition.
Today Governor Cuomo also granted clemency relief to two individuals who have demonstrated rehabilitation and made positive strides in their lives since their criminal convictions. These individuals were granted clemency relief in the interests of justice and rehabilitation. The clemencies granted today are in addition to the four the Governor granted several weeks ago.
December 21, 2015 in Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)
Federal judge enjoins Tennessee county's privatized probation system operating like debtors' prison
As reported in this local article, "Judge's order frees 13 held for not paying probation fees," a group of probationers got a holiday gift in the form of a significant federal judicial order preventing a locality for jailing low-level offenders for failing to pay fines or court costs. Here are the basics:
Heather Keller is looking forward to spending Christmas with her children after a federal judge's order set her free from the Rutherford County Detention Center Friday afternoon. A day earlier, a federal judge in Nashville granted an injunction that prevented officials and probation supervisors in Rutherford County from holding people in jail for certain violations or only because they could not pay fees. It also said that anyone being held for those reasons should be let go.
Keller, 35, was one of 13 inmates released from the jail in Murfreesboro who were held there because they could not pay fees to the private company contracted to oversee the Rutherford County misdemeanor probation system. The injunction that won Keller’s release was part of a lawsuit filed against Providence Community Corrections, which has changed its name to Pathways Community Corrections.
The suit was filed in October and accuses Rutherford County and PCC of working together to extort people on probation there by charging excessive fees. Many of the seven people named in the lawsuit rely on government assistance and have said in court testimony or documents that PCC's excessive fees leave them struggling to pay bills and facing extended probation terms because they cannot pay court costs.
It is a practice Alec Karakatsanis, attorney for the plaintiffs, likens to the operation of a debtors' prison. Karakatsanis said Sharp's order is only the beginning of possible probation reform in Rutherford County.
“We will fight to end permanently what we believe to be the rise of a modern debtors' prison system in which the poor and destitute are jailed and threatened with jail solely because of their inability to make monetary payments to a private company and their local government,” Karakatsanis said. “This is a very important ruling for impoverished people in Tennessee.”
The injunction was granted by Chief District Judge Kevin Sharp in Nashville. In addition to freeing these prisoners, Sharp also ordered PCC immediately stop the practice of violating probationers solely for non-payment of fees.
Keller was originally arrested for driving on a suspended license and since has been jailed twice for non-payment of probation fees, she said. “I’ve spent more time in jail for non-payment than the original charge,” Keller said.
And Sharp ordered Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold to free any inmates held on violation of probation charges stemming solely from non-payment of fees and fines.
The federal district judge's 20-page injunction order in Rodriguez v. Providence Community Corrections is available for download here: Download Opinion Granting Injunction
December 21, 2015 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Michigan Supreme Court takes up punishing questions about lifetime sex offender registration
As reported in this local article, the "Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to look at the case of a man who’s on the sex offender list for life, although his conviction was erased nearly 20 years ago." Here is more about the case and context:
The man was 19 when he was charged with kissing and groping a 12-year-old girl in Wayne County. He pleaded guilty, but his conviction was erased in 1997 after he completed three years of probation. A law gives breaks to young offenders who commit crimes but subsequently stay out of trouble. Nonetheless, he’s on the sex offender list.
In an order released Saturday, the Supreme Court said it will take up the appeal. The court wants lawyers to address several issues, including whether the registry in some cases violates the constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The man in the Wayne County case said his status on the registry has hurt his ability to work, affected his family life and caused depression. In 2012, a judge ordered his removal, but the state appeals court last year reversed that decision. “The central purpose of (the registry) is not intended to chastise, deter, or discipline. Rather, it is a remedial measure meant to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public,” the appeals court said.
The Michigan Supreme Court's order in Michigan v. Telemoski is available at this link, and here are excerpts from it:
The parties shall include among the issues to be briefed: (1) whether the requirements of the Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA), MCL 28.721 et seq., amount to “punishment,” see People v Earl, 495 Mich 33 (2014); (2) whether the answer to that question is different when applied to the class of individuals who have successfully completed probation under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA), MCL 762.11 et seq.; (3) whether MCL 28.722(b) (defining HYTA status to be a “conviction” for purposes of SORA) provides the defendant constitutionally sufficient due process where the defendant is required to register pursuant to SORA as if he had been convicted of an offense, notwithstanding that upon successful completion of HYTA the court is required to “discharge the individual and dismiss the proceedings” without entering an order of conviction for the crime.... (6) whether it is cruel and/or unusual punishment to require the defendant to register under SORA, US Const, Am VIII; Const 1963, art 1, § 16.
The Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan are invited to file briefs amicus curiae. Other persons or groups interested in the determination of the issues presented in this case may move the Court for permission to file briefs amicus curiae.
December 20, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (25)
Saturday, December 19, 2015
"On sentencing reform, we have to talk more about reentry"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Ashley McSwain recently published by The Hill. Here are excerpts:
Congress displayed a refreshing and all too rare example of bipartisanship this fall when the Judiciary Committee voted 15 to 5 to move the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 to a floor vote. If it passes, the bill would mark a significant step in fixing our broken criminal justice system. Thirty years of tough-on-crime policies — such as mandatory minimum sentencings and three-strike policies for drug-related crimes — has led to over a 750 percent increase in our prison population. People go in, but they don’t come out.
Congress can change that. But in order to ensure success, our communities need to rethink how we help citizens return to the community once their time is served -- what we call “reentry.” As we talk about sentencing reform, we have to talk more about reentry and rehabilitation. It’s not enough to simply reduce sentences; we need to increase access to education, housing, job training, mentorship, and counseling to prepare people to reenter....
As the executive director of Community Family Life Services — a non-profit organization located in the shadow of the Capitol building – We work with women and men everyday who are returning home following a period of incarceration. When they are released from prison or jail, many are homeless, have limited clothing or any possessions other than what they brought to prison. Many don’t have adequate job training or updated skills to reenter the work force. Finally, they don’t have strong family or community supports which are central to a successful reentry strategy.... Faced with these challenges, returning citizens are at high-risk of drug addiction, recidivism, and even death. Without robust reentry programs, sentencing reform will be all for naught.
Currently, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 calls for increasing rehabilitation programs for “eligible” prisoners over the next six years and monitoring reentry. That’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough. But it’s also not up to Congress alone. It takes a village. As we rethink sentencing laws and work towards a more just and equitable criminal justice system, we need to come together — government agencies, foundations, non-profits, individuals — and help create livable communities here in Washington, D.C. and across the country.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons should be encouraged to forge more relationships with reentry programs and encourage those in prison to work towards rehabilitation from day one, regardless of the length or terms of their sentences. We need more citizens to volunteer as mentors and work with men and women both in prison and out of prison to ensure each returning citizen has the support, strength, and resolve necessary to make the transition to open society and live up to their full potential....
As Congress considers a vote on the Sentencing Bill, I invite members to visit us at 3rd and E St NW. Talk to the women returning home to DC so they can better understand the challenges they face and what it will take for them to succeed. Every person who steps into our resource center is capable of a successful reentry, but they need our support — everyone’s support — to achieve it.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
"Leaders With Criminal Histories Should Be Included in Reform Debate"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post commentary authored by Rev. Vivian Nixon Become, who is Executive Director of the College and Community Fellowship and Co-Founder of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition. Here are excerpts:
When tech companies hold panels on diversity consisting entirely of white men, there is an outcry — and rightly so. And when Congressional hearings on women's reproductive rights are devoid of actual women, the public is similarly aghast. The reason for this outrage is easy to understand. The people whose lives, careers, and bodies are impacted by these systems should be allowed to speak from direct experience, and are best positioned to guide meaningful decision-making.
So, why is there no uproar when policy decisions on criminal justice don't consider the recommendations of formerly incarcerated people? It's high time that those who have direct experience with mass incarceration get a seat at the table in policy conversations on reform.
As a country, we've finally come to terms with the impact of a 500 per cent increase in our prison population over the last 30 years. There is a bipartisan dialogue about the best ways to tackle the failures of America's criminal justice system. But when the nation's leading politicians and thinkers gather to address these issues, they rarely include the people who will be most impacted by policy shifts, and who bring a valuable perspective — those who have actually experienced the lifetime consequences of criminal conviction.
Many men and women with criminal history records are leaders actively working to create meaningful change, both behind the bars and once they re-enter society. I know this firsthand — while I was incarcerated in a New York state correctional facility, I spent time tutoring women in basic adult education and high school equivalency courses. Upon my release, I was eager to find a way to pursue higher education. Through the College and Community Fellowship and the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, I've worked with countless individuals who've similarly turned their lives around and helped their peers to do the same.
Why aren't these men and women seen as experts in their own cause? Sadly, society continues to ostracize the formerly incarcerated and devalue their experiences. The "tough on crime" 1990s didn't just increase our prison populations; it also allowed us to dehumanize people in prison, or those who have a criminal record. We assigned them terms like "felon," "con," and "inmate" and reduced them to their crimes — regardless of the length of their sentence and whether or not they were expected to re-enter society.
Demonizing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals permitted us to leave them out of daily American life. Even worse — we excluded them from conversations about their own fates and continued to punish them with collateral consequences, long after they had served their time. In America, every sentence is a life sentence....
[F]ormerly incarcerated leaders are mobilizing. This December, 200 formerly incarcerated men and women from across the Northeast gathered in New York to discuss methods to end mass incarceration, after similar regional conferences held in the South and on the West Coast. They spoke directly and honestly with representatives from the federal government about their personal experiences and stories.
These candid conversations with people who have lived through prison and become leaders in the reform movement are invaluable for shaping criminal justice reform. The more the voices of people with criminal record histories are heard, the harder it will be to silence them — and the more likely we are to be outraged when they are excluded from conversations that impact their lives. With more than 70 million members of our society living with criminal records, we can't afford to ignore their experiences. Let's open up a seat at the table for these leaders.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
"The Effect of Prison Sentence Length on Recidivism: Evidence from Random Judicial Assignment"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper authored by Michael Roach and Max Schanzenbach available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Whether punishment promotes or deters future criminal activity by the convicted offender is a key public policy concern. Longer prison sentences further isolate offenders from the legitimate labor force and may promote the formation of criminal networks in prison. On the other hand, greater initial punishment may have a deterrence effect on the individual being punished, sometimes called “specific deterrence,” through learning or the rehabilitative effect of prison.
We test the effect of prison sentence length on recidivism by exploiting a unique quasi-experimental design from adult sentences within a courthouse in Seattle, Washington. Offenders who plead guilty are randomly assigned to a sentencing judge, which leads to random differences in prison sentence length depending on the sentencing judge’s proclivities. We find that one-month extra prison sentence reduces the rate of recidivism by about one percentage point, with possibly larger effects for those with limited criminal histories. However, the reduction in recidivism comes almost entirely in the first year of release, which we interpret as consistent with prison’s rehabilitative role.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Notable Ninth Circuit panel squabble over computer-search supervised release condition
Yesterday, a split Ninth Circuit panel rejected a defendant's claim that a computer-search condition in his supervised release terms was clearly unreasonable. The majority opinion in US v. Bare, No. 14-10475 (9th Cir. Nov. 24, 2015) (available here), found adequate the government's contention that, since "Bare kept paper records of his illicit firearms pawn business," if officers were permitted to search "only paper records — but not computers — [it] might enable Bare to evade discovery of recidivist activity by switching his records into an electronic format." Judge Kozinski dissent starts this way:
Persons on supervised release may have diminished expectations of privacy, but they have privacy rights nonetheless. Moreover, Congress has instructed us to adopt conditions of supervised release that impose “no greater deprivation of libertythan is reasonablynecessary” to achieve the goals of supervised release. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(2). The majority today disregards this command by allowing probation officers to search defendant’s computer at anytime, for any reason or no reason, even though defendant did not use a computer to carry out his crime, and (so far as we know) did not even own a computer when he committed the offense.
The majority’s rationale, that defendant’s crime could be committed with the help of a computer, is no limitation at all. Pretty much any federal crime can be committed by using a computer in some way — to maintain records, to case the premises using Google Street View or to track down accomplices, methods and supplies necessary for committing the crime. If a hypothesis about how the crime might have been committed is a sufficient justification for imposing a supervised release condition, then any condition can be justified by supposing that the crime could be committed in a way that’s different from the method employed by the defendant. I cannot subscribe to such a broad and amorphous standard.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Outgoing Kentucky Gov restores voting rights to many thousands of nonviolent felons
As reported in this AP article, the "outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky signed an executive order Tuesday to restore the right to vote and hold public office to thousands of non-violent felons who've served out their sentences." Here is more:
The order from Gov. Steve Beshear — who leaves office next month — does not include those convicted of violent crimes, sex offenses, bribery or treason. Kentucky already restores voting rights to some nonviolent convicted felons, but the felon must apply to the governor's office, which approves them on a case by case basis. This new order automatically restores voting rights to convicted felons who meet certain criteria upon their release. Those who have already been released can fill out a form on the state Department of Corrections' website.
"All of our society will be better off if we actively work to help rehabilitate those who have made a mistake," Beshear said. "And the more we do that, the more the entire society will benefit."
Kentucky was one of four states that did not automatically restore voting rights to felons once they completed all the terms of their sentences. About 180,000 in Kentucky have served their sentences yet remain banned from casting ballots. The Kentucky legislature has tried and failed numerous times to pass a bill to restore voting rights to felons. The Republican-controlled Senate would agree only if there was a five-year waiting period, which Democrats refused....
Democrats control state government until next month, when Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin takes office. Bevin could repeal Beshear's order or allow it to stand. Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said Bevin supports restoring voting rights to nonviolent offenders, but added he was not notified of Beshear's order until a few minutes before he announced it. "The Executive Order will be evaluated during the transition period," she said.
Republican State Rep. Jeff Hoover, the minority floor leader of the state House of Representatives, said he supports restoring voting rights to convicted felons but opposes Beshear's method of doing it. "It should be the role of the legislature, not one person, which should address these issues through legislative debate," Hoover said in a news release. "This is a prime example of this Governor following in the footsteps of President Obama and putting his own agenda above the people of Kentucky and the elected legislators who serve them."
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Stray kittens strut their stuff in prison
I am not sure that catblogging is really an internet thing anymore, but I am sure that this local article from Washington state headlined "This Humane Society is sending stray cats to prison," is blog-worthy as a feel-good story about a local prison program. Here are excerpts:
The Kitsap Humane Society has a new approach for stray cats: send them to prison. Inmates at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, near Belfair in Mason County, are rehabilitating 10 stray cats until they are ready to be adopted by the public.
The women raising the cats say they offenders benefit as well. "It's a win-win for everybody involved," said Cydney Berthel, who is locked up on a theft conviction. "We're rehabilitating the lives of these little kittens and rehabilitating our lives too," said Berthel. She said working with the cats has been therapeutic.
It's taught the offenders how to nurture a living thing, something they didn't always do in their past lives. "We definitely made mistakes," said Shauna Teagle, "I feel this is my little bit of payback I can do." Teagle, who was sentenced to three years in prison for dealing drugs, said caring for the cats will help her be a better mother when she's released.
To participate in what the inmates call the "Pawsitive Prison Program," offenders must be infraction-free for the past six months.
Though some may view this post a fluff piece, I have heard enough anecdotes about "pets for prisoners" to wonder seriously if any systematic research has been done on recidivism rates after particitation in one of these kinds of programs. At the very least, I hope there is no reason to fear that prisoners involved in these positive programs do not later get caught up in kitty porn.
(Sorry folks, like cats drawn to catnip, I could not resist my favorite bad cat-crime pun.)
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Latest BJS official data show reduction of offenders on probation and parole
As reported in this official press release, the Bureau of Justice Statistics this past week released this report, titled "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2014," providing the latest official data on offenders under community supervision throughout the nation. Here are some data highlights from the press release:
The one-percent decline in the number of adults supervised in the community on probation or parole between yearend 2013 and 2014 marked the seventh consecutive year of decline in the population, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. In the past seven years, adults under community supervision declined between 0.5 percent and 2.6 percent annually, or by nearly 400,000 offenders over the 7-year period.
Between yearend 2008 and 2014, the probation population fell 10 percent, while the parole population increased nearly 4 percent. Probation is a court-ordered period of supervision in the community, generally used as an alternative to incarceration, and parole is a period of conditional supervised release in the community following a prison term.
An estimated 4.7 million adults were under correctional community supervision in the United States on December 31, 2014, down 45,300 offenders from the same day in 2013. The decline in community supervision was due to a drop in the number on probation that was offset by an increase in the number on parole. Between yearend 2013 and 2014, the probation population decreased by 46,500 offenders (from 3,910,600 to 3,864,100 offenders) while the parole population increase by 1,700 offenders over the same period (from 855,200 to 856,900 offenders)....
Other probation findings include —
- About 25 percent of probationers were female in 2014, up from 22 percent in 2000....
- Of all persons on probation during 2014, the incarceration rate (5 percent) among those violating their conditions of supervision — including incarceration for a new offense, a revocation and other reasons — was similar to the rate observed in 2013 (5.4 percent).
Other parole findings include —
- Twelve percent of parolees were female in 2014, unchanged from 2000.
- In 2014, nearly a third (31 percent) of parolees were being supervised for violent offenses, about a third (31 percent) for drug crimes and nearly a quarter (22 percent) for property offenses....
- Among all persons on parole during the year, an estimated 9 percent were reincarcerated in 2014, a rate similar to 2013.
Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard released as rare federal offender with parole conditions to challenge
Though parole was formally ended for all federal offenses three decades ago through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, offenders convicted for crimes committed before that time still are eligible for parole release. As reported in this article, headlined "Lawyers Contest Pollard’s Parole Conditions," a controversial offender was released on parole under controversial conditions. Here are the basics:
Jonathan Pollard was released from prison Friday after 30 years behind bars for spying for Israel, and his lawyers immediately went to court to challenge tough parole conditions seemingly designed to ensure he doesn’t spill any U.S. military secrets he might have left.
The 61-year-old former Navy intelligence analyst was set free in the middle of the night from a medium-security federal prison in Butner, N.C., after being paroled from a life sentence that had turned him into a continual source of tension between the U.S. and Israel.
Under the rules of his release, he must wear a GPS unit to transmit his whereabouts at all times, allow the installation of monitoring equipment on any computers he uses at work or at home, and agree to periodic, unannounced inspections of those machines.
“The notion that, having fought for and finally obtained his release after serving 30 years in prison, Mr. Pollard will now disclose stale, 30-year-old information to anyone is preposterous,” his lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, said in a statement....
Despite parole requirements that he not leave the U.S. without government permission for the next five years, Pollard has expressed a desire to renounce his American citizenship and move to Israel, where he is seen by some as a national hero. The White House has come out against the request.
U.S. intelligence officials have long argued that Pollard, who pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage, did severe damage to the United States during the Cold War by giving away an enormous volume of military intelligence secrets that some suspect wound up in Soviet hands. His defenders have contended that his punishment was overly harsh for helping a close U.S. ally.
The prosecutor who handled the case, former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova, said it is legitimate for the government to be concerned that Pollard might still have secrets to tell.
Pollard’s lawyers submitted a statement from former U.S. national security adviser Robert McFarlane dismissing such fears. “To the extent Mr. Pollard even recalls any classified information, it would date back 30 years or more, and would have no value to anyone today,” he said.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
"Cosmetic Psychopharmacology for Prisoners: Reducing Crime and Recidivism Through Cognitive Intervention"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting-sounding paper available via SSRN authored by Adam Shniderman and Lauren Solberg. Here is the abstract:
Criminologists have long acknowledged the link between a number of cognitive deficits, including low intelligence and impulsivity, and crime. A new wave of research has demonstrated that pharmacological intervention can restore or improve cognitive function, particularly executive function (including the inhibition of impulsive response), and restore neural plasticity. Such restoration and improvement can allow for easier acquisition of new skills and as a result, presents significant possibilities for the criminal justice system.
For example, studies have shown that supplements of Omega-3, a fatty acid commonly found in food such as tuna, can decrease frequency of violent incidents in an incarcerated population. Research has also begun to explore the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to reduce impulsivity in some violent offenders. However, there are significant legal and ethical implications when moving from dietary supplements to prescription pharmaceuticals and medical devices for cognitive intervention. This paper will explore the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of pharmacological intervention on prisoners as an effort to reduce crime and recidivism.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
"Some Women Charged Under Tennessee’s Hated Fetal Assault Law Say It’s Not So Bad"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new Nashville Public Radio piece (found by my great research assistant) that provides interesting perspectives on a controversial Tennessee criminal law responding to modern drug abuse concerns. Here are excerpts:
Tennessee has attracted international attention for making it a crime to give birth to a drug-dependent baby. This means women addicted to pain pills or heroin can be charged with assault to a fetus. After less than two years in effect, the controversial law must be renewed, or it will expire. While the measure has drawn worldwide disdain from women's health and civil liberty advocates, some of the women who’ve been charged say the threat of jail-time was a wake-up call.
“If I didn’t go through what I went through, I’d probably be down that same road right now," says 26-year-old mother Kim Walker of Johnson City. "But now I’m a totally different person. And I’m on the good road, not the bad road.” Last year, Walker went into labor at home.... "One push and he was out," she says. “My husband delivered him. Didn’t know he was drug exposed until we got to the hospital," she says. "When we got to the hospital, they took him straight from my hospital room. I didn’t get to see him, didn’t get to hold him, nothing.”
He spent 28 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, withdrawing from the painkillers Walker was taking illegally. Walker had to take a drug test, which she failed. Then she was charged with assault. But like most women, she chose treatment in order to avoid conviction. Rehab was a rocky road. There’s been a relapse along the way. But in late October, Walker gave birth to another son — Jack — this time, drug-free.
The idea for Tennessee’s fetal assault law didn’t originate from doctors, nurses or social workers. It came from law enforcement and legislators. In fact, the medical community lined up in resistance, saying punishment is no way to treat addiction — especially when young mothers are singled out.
Lisa Tipton falls somewhere in the middle. “I don’t feel the law is perfect," she says. "I don’t feel the law is necessarily the solution...but we were absolutely bombarded.” Tipton runs a non-profit treatment center called Families Free in Johnson City. This part of Northeast Tennessee is the epicenter of the state's — and even the country's — problem with neonatal abstinence syndrome....
Tipton recognizes that Tennessee’s law has a bad rap among women’s health advocates and civil liberty groups. But she says she’s not hearing great alternatives from the naysayers. “I would really invite them to go in our area, into the trailer parks where they may be living with several family members who also use drugs and sometimes abuse them, and their children as well. To go into the jails and talk to the women whose lives have been destroyed by drugs and whose children are being raised by somebody else," Tipton says. "Help come up with some very real-life and real-world solutions that are going to change the lives of these women.”
It isn't clear the fetal assault law is doing what it was supposed to do. In the Tri-Cities, more women have been prosecuted with this misdemeanor than anywhere else in the state. Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, who pushed for the law in the first place, has charged more than 20 women this year. And yet the mountainous region is still home to the largest number of babies being born needing to detox.
State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Livingston, sponsored the statute. She says it needs more time and should be renewed. “I’m just going to stand my ground on the fact that I believe wholeheartedly this bill does help and does help these women that are in situations that never would have gotten the help they needed,” she says.
Some women say they were too scared to get prenatal care for fear of going to jail. Even getting that medical help is tricky. Some OBGYNs prefer drug treatment to come first. And only a handful of treatment centers in the state even accept pregnant women and their added complexities.
"I’m not really sure what I feel about the law right now. I kinda of have mixed emotions about it,” says Sabrina Sawyer of Kingsport. Her nine-month-old son was born with drug-dependency and had to spend several days in the NICU. He's happy and healthy now, which brings to light another important point from critics: It's unclear whether there are any long-term health effects from NAS.
Sawyer, who has two other young children, says she didn't know about Tennessee's fetal assault law until a caseworker walked into her hospital room. “I was terrified. I had never been in any kind of trouble," she says. "It sent me through an emotional mess for a while.” Sawyer was charged with assault but chose to get treatment and avoid prosecution. While torn about the effectiveness of the law, she also admits she'd likely still be using if going to jail hadn't been a possibility.
Monday, November 16, 2015
"Risk, Race, & Recidivism: Predictive Bias and Disparate Impact"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely empirical paper by Jennifer Skeem and Christopher Lowenkamp now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
One way to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety is to use risk assessment instruments in sentencing and corrections. These instruments figure prominently in current reforms, but controversy has begun to swirl around their use. The principal concern is that benefits in crime control will be offset by costs in social justice — a disparate and adverse effect on racial minorities and the poor. Based on a sample of 34,794 federal offenders, we empirically examine the relationships among race (Black vs. White), actuarial risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and re-arrest (for any/violent crime).
First, application of well-established principles of psychological science revealed no real evidence of test bias for the PCRA — the instrument strongly predicts re-arrest for both Black and White offenders and a given score has essentially the same meaning — i.e., same probability of recidivism — across groups. Second, Black offenders obtain modestly higher average scores on the PCRA than White offenders (d = .43; appx. 27% non-overlap in groups’ scores). So some applications of the PCRA could create disparate impact — which is defined by moral rather than empirical criteria. Third, most (69%) of the racial difference in PCRA scores is attributable to criminal history — which strongly predicts recidivism for both groups and is embedded in sentencing guidelines. Finally, criminal history is not a proxy for race — instead, it fully mediates the otherwise weak relationship between race and re-arrest. Data may be more helpful than rhetoric, if the goal is to improve practice at this opportune moment in history.
November 16, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 15, 2015
New York Times editorial makes case that California prison releases are working
The New York Times had this notable recent editorial, headlined "California’s Prison Experiment," highlighting why California is the most dynamic state to watch amidst the national debate over sentencing reform and mass incarceration. Building on two recent reports, the editorial makes the case that California is finding success with decarceration reforms. Here are excerpts:
Until recently, California locked up more people per capita than any other state. It has been under federal court order since 2009 to bring its severely overcrowded prison system below 137.5 percent of capacity, or about 114,000 inmates.
It met that modest goal in February, thanks in part to a 2014 ballot initiative that reclassified six lowlevel offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The initiative, Proposition 47, was expected to lead to the release of thousands of inmates, and cut new admissions by about 3,300 per year. It also required that the cost savings — estimated to be more than $150 million this year — be reinvested into anticrime services like drug rehabilitation, antitruancy efforts and mental health treatment. Victims’ services receive funding, too.
Proposition 47 followed two other major reforms: A 2011 law diverted lowlevel offenders from state prisons into county jails, and a 2012 ballot initiative scaled back a “three strikes” law. The latter led to the release of more than 2,100 people who had been sentenced to life without parole, some for a third strike as minor as shoplifting.
After each reform, law enforcement officials predicted that crime would rise, but it continued to drop around the state. Recidivism rates of those released under the three-strikes reform are far below the state average.
Now, two new reports, by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project, look at the effect of Proposition 47. The most easily measurable impact is on the state’s prison and county jail population, which has fallen by about 13,000, with more than 4,400 prison inmates released by the end of September. But the law remains controversial. Some in law enforcement argue that they can’t arrest people for small crimes anymore, and point to crime upticks in some counties.
In fact, crime rates vary widely throughout the state. In Los Angeles County, property crime is up 8 percent, while the rate for all crime remains at record lows in San Diego County. One sign that Proposition 47 is working is the recidivism rate. It is less than 5 percent for people released under the law; the state average is 42 percent....
It may be too soon to understand the full impact of Proposition 47, but the damage done by the indiscriminate and lengthy lockup of lowlevel offenders is all too clear. California’s voters, who have in the past given in to their most punitive impulses, have now opened the door to a more intelligent and humane justice system.
A few (of many) prior related posts on Prop 47 and its impact:
- "Proposition 47 Progress Report: Year One Implementation"
- Notable new ACLU report on impact of California's Prop 47 one year later
- Interesting takes on California developments since passage of Prop 47
- Spotlighting significant back-end impact of Prop 47 sentencing reform in California
Monday, November 09, 2015
New research suggests overcrowding in California prisons increased post-release parole violations
Opponents of modern sentencing reform efforts are often quick and eager to highlight research showing high rates of recidivism among those released from prison to argue that public safety could be adversely affected by any and all sentencing reform. In light of such claims, I find notable this new published empirical research suggesting that prison overcrowding in California may be in part responsible for high recidivism rates. The published research is titled "Does Prison Crowding Predict Higher Rates of Substance Use Related Parole Violations? A Recurrent Events Multi-Level Survival Analysis," and here are excerpts from the abstract:
This administrative data-linkage cohort study examines the association between prison crowding and the rate of post-release parole violations in a random sample of prisoners released with parole conditions in California, for an observation period of two years (January 2003 through December 2004).
Crowding overextends prison resources needed to adequately protect inmates and provide drug rehabilitation services. Violence and lack of access to treatment are known risk factors for drug use and substance use disorders. These and other psychosocial effects of crowding may lead to higher rates of recidivism in California parolees.
Rates of parole violation for parolees exposed to high and medium levels of prison crowding were compared to parolees with low prison crowding exposure. Hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using a Cox model for recurrent events. Our dataset included 13070 parolees in California, combining individual level parolee data with aggregate level crowding data for multilevel analysis....
Prison crowding predicted higher rates of parole violations after release from prison. The effect was magnitude-dependent and particularly strong for drug charges. Further research into whether adverse prison experiences, such as crowding, are associated with recidivism and drug use in particular may be warranted.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
More notable comments from Deputy AG Yates about "how badly we need" sentencing reforms
Earlier today Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates spoke at Columbia Law School about criminal justice reform. Her full speech, available at this link, merits a full read. Here are excerpts:
These days, there’s a lot of talk about criminal justice reform. We are at a unique moment in our history, where a bipartisan consensus is emerging around the critical need to improve our current system. About a month ago, a coalition of republican and democratic senators unveiled a bill — called the sentencing reform and corrections act — to address proportionality in sentencing, particularly for lower level, non-violent drug offenders. In short, we need to make sure that the punishment fits the crime. Last week, I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the many promising pieces of that legislation.
And I know how badly we need reform. As the Deputy Attorney General, I oversee day-to-day operations for the Justice Department, which includes not just our nation’s federal prosecutors, but also the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service and the federal prison system. I see all sides of our criminal justice system and I can tell you confidently: the status quo needs to change.
We need a new approach and we need a better approach. We need to be willing to step back, look at how we’ve managed criminal justice in the past and be willing to adjust our way of thinking....
We need to think differently. We need to look beyond our own experiences and accept that there may be new and better, ways of doing things. I saw one example of that just this morning. I visited a drug court in federal court in Brooklyn that focuses on giving offenders a chance to escape the grip of drugs. Instead of lengthy prison sentences, the program is designed to hold the defendants accountable, but to do it in a way that offers support, drug treatment and job opportunities. While it’s true that there are dangerous defendants from whom society needs to be protected, there are others, like the defendants I saw today, for whom alternatives to incarceration make a lot more sense.
This new way of thinking is beginning to resonate in federal and state systems all across the country. At the Justice Department, to achieve more proportional sentencing, we have directed prosecutors to stop charging mandatory minimum offenses for certain low-level, non-violent drug crimes. The president has granted clemency to scores of individuals who received sentences longer than necessary under our harshest drug laws — with more to come in the months ahead. Twenty-nine red states and blue states across the country have passed innovative reforms. Even Congress — which doesn’t agree on much these days — is on the cusp of significant sentencing reform legislation.
But if we are really serious about building safe communities, if we are really committed to justice, as a country, we have to be willing to invest in stopping crime before it starts. We have to be willing to invest in breaking the cycle of generational lack of access to educational opportunity and resulting illiteracy and poverty. We have to be willing to invest in real prevention and prisoner reentry opportunities and do it in a big systemic way, not just a smattering of pilot programs. We all know that we can’t simply jail our way into safer communities. But until we are willing to invest in preventing crime the same way we are willing to invest in sending people to prison, our communities will not be as safe nor will our system be as just as it should be.
When we talk about prevention, we need to include in that rehabilitation. Because prisoner rehabilitation is crime prevention. The fact is, more than 95 percent of all prisoners will eventually be released from prison. And we know that as things currently stand, about 40 percent of federal prisoners and two-thirds of those released from state prisons will reoffend within three years. We have to break that cycle.
We also know that the best way to reduce recidivism is to reintegrate ex-offenders into our communities — they need stability, support and social ties to turn away from the errors of their past. They need jobs and homes; friends and family. Yet so many people in our society want nothing to do with anyone with a rap sheet. There are too many people willing to pin a scarlet letter on those who have spent time in prison. The irony, of course, is that this view is self-defeating — that by ostracizing this class of citizens, we only increase the risk of recidivism and we make our country less safe, not more.
It is up to all of us to reject this way of thinking. Rather than creating even greater distance between ex-offenders and the communities they’re re-joining, we should be focusing our energy on developing more effective paths for reentry....
Achieving meaningful criminal justice reform will not be easy. And we must all participate in this process, government and private citizens alike. Three decades ago, when our country was focused just on being “tough on crime,” it was impossible to imagine that we would ever find a way to return proportionality to our sentencing laws. But we are closer than ever, thanks to the sustained efforts of those willing to call out injustices and demand meaningful change. It’s time that we collectively discard old assumptions and embrace new ideas. In other words, it’s time we all collectively put two fingers to our temples. Our nation and our fellow citizens deserve nothing less.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
"Separation by Bars and Miles: Visitation in state prisons"
Less than a third of people in state prison receive a visit from a loved one in a typical month [according to] a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Separation by Bars and Miles: Visitation in state prisons. The report finds that distance from home is a strong predictor for whether an incarcerated person receives a visit.
“For far too long, the national data on prison visits has been limited to incarcerated parents. We use extensive yet under-used Bureau of Justice Statistics data to shed light on the prison experience for all incarcerated people, finding that prisons are lonely places,” said co-author Bernadette Rabuy, who recently used the same BJS dataset for Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned.
Separation by Bars and Miles finds that most people in state prison are locked up over 100 miles from their families and that, unsurprisingly, these great distances — as well as the time and expense required to overcome them — actively discourage family visits. Given the obvious reluctance of state prison systems to move their facilities, the report offers six correctional policy recommendations that states can implement to protect and enhance family ties. Rabuy explained, “At this moment, as policymakers are starting to understand that millions of families are victims of mass incarceration, I hope this report gives policymakers more reasons to change the course of correctional history.”
Monday, October 19, 2015
New York Times editorial rightly frames debate over federal judges' expungement power
Regular readers may recall this recent post highlighting the interesting (and hip?) legal issue arising in federal court lately concerning the inherent power of federal judges to expunge a federal conviction. This effective New York Times editorial, headlined "How to Get Around a Criminal Record," spotlights some of the unfortunate reasons this legal issue is now coming up for debate. Here are excerpts:
In May, a federal judge in Brooklyn took the extraordinary step of expunging the conviction of a woman he had sentenced to five years of probation more than a decade earlier for her involvement in an insurance fraud scheme that netted her $2,500.... The move was significant because there is no federal law that allows for expungement — the permanent sealing of a criminal record to the general public....
Some 70 million to 100 million people in the United States — more than a quarter of all adults — have a criminal record, and as a result they are subject to tens of thousands of federal and state laws and rules that restrict or prohibit their access to the most basic rights and privileges — from voting, employment and housing to business licensing and parental rights. Some of these collateral consequences make sense — like preventing people convicted of molesting children from working in schools. But many have no relation at all to the original offense.
The woman whose record Judge Gleeson expunged was hired repeatedly for social-work or health-care jobs, and then fired after employers ran a background check. As the judge wrote, it is “random and senseless” that her “ancient and minor offense should disqualify her from work as a home health aide.”
The federal government lags far behind in reducing the burdens of a conviction. About half the states allow some convictions to be expunged; almost all allow expungement for arrest records and other non-conviction records. Some expungements are automatic, while others require a petition to the court. Of course, expungement is not a cure-all. The vast majority of employers now run background checks, many using error-strewn databases that often fail to delete sealed records.
A better, increasingly popular approach is a “certificate of rehabilitation,” which state judges issue as a way of removing certain restrictions and encouraging employers and others to take a chance on someone despite his or her record.
Another solution is the executive pardon, which restores rights lost after a conviction. Pardons were once a common method of relief from injustice, and some state governors still use it vigorously. Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware has issued almost 1,600 pardons in six years. But President Obama, like his recent predecessors, has almost entirely abandoned the practice.
Mr. Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, understood the importance of giving people with criminal records a better chance at finding jobs and regaining their foothold in society. And yet the Justice Department is reflexively fighting Judge Gleeson’s expungement order, calling it “judicial editing of history.”
If the White House or Congress made a real effort to alleviate the crippling consequences of criminal records — by increasing pardons, or passing laws to give courts more options to lessen or remove those burdens — there would be no need for judges to play the role of editors.
Some prior related posts:
- US District Judge John Gleeson finds extraordinary circumstances to order expungement of old federal fraud conviction
- DOJ indicating it will appeal Judge Glesson's remarkable federal expungement order
- "Expunging America's Rap Sheet in the Information Age"
- "Clean Slate: Expanding Expungements & Pardons For Non-Violent Federal Offenders"
- "Administering Justice: Removing Statutory Barriers to Reentry"
- Federal judicial power to expunge old convictions getting lots of (hip?) attention in EDNY
October 19, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
"Can Architecture Cure Crime?"
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting Ozy article discussing a novel prison design for a women's prison in southern California.
The campus is spacious and green, with a grassy amphitheater and palm trees, volleyball nets, even a yoga studio. Inside, the earthy tones continue: abundant natural light, murals of waves crashing into the cliffside. From his second-floor office, Edwin Schroeder reflects on his view: “You don’t get that gut-dropping feeling anymore.”
Schroeder isn’t a professor and the vista isn’t of a liberal arts college. He runs a women’s jail, but one that emphasizes the avant-garde over security guards. “We’re not here to punish,” says Schroeder, which isn’t exactly a line you’d expect from a gatekeeper. But this San Diego County jail, which houses everyone from petty criminals to accused murderers and was once known for its sickening decrepitude, is at the forefront of a new and, of course, controversial movement in prison design, one that manifests a counterintuitive idea: You could build a lockup so pleasant and thoughtfully devised that inmates would never come back....
It’s a lofty goal. And while it remains to be seen whether administrators will succeed at rebuilding lives, few would doubt that they’ve built a one-of-a-kind facility. This will surely raise hackles among tough-on-crime folks, but this isn’t one of those pay-to-stay country club prisons for stock brokers. It’s more of a social experiment. In an era when more women than ever are imprisoned — the female incarcerated population in the U.S. shot up nearly tenfold between 1980 and 2010, to 205,000 — Las Colinas is testing a new theory: by treating inmates as autonomous, responsible human beings, they might actually behave like autonomous, responsible human beings. Some would say it’s taking a woman’s touch. There’s not a barbed wire in sight (they’re there, just not visible), and long outdoor walkways provide a feeling of freedom. Thus, when a woman needs medical attention, she walks across that green campus to a waiting room that looks like one in any other doctor’s office. Even booking looks less like a holding room and more like a health clinic, with separate walk-up windows for arrestees to take care of various intake procedures.
Critics will argue that comfy prisons have little deterrent effect. But the design, proponents say, is gender responsive. For decades, conventional wisdom was that the only difference between a men’s prison and a women’s is that one has urinals. But there are countless differences between the sexes, including, for instance, that women prefer communal spaces whereas guys value solitude. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that 75 percent of women in the corrections system have suffered abuse over their lifetimes, and the dorms at Las Colinas are sensitive to that: The lowest-level offenders sleep in open-concept rooms with shoulder-height dividers, instead of individual cells. Recent research reveals that building designs, floor plans and overall ambiance affect prisoner interactions and their relationships with staff. And as it turns out, one year in, the sheriff’s department already reports a decline in incidents of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff violence. “Almost every sense of well-being is affected by environment,” says Barb Toews, a justice professor at the University of Washington Tacoma who studies incarcerated women....
Even if this little social experiment is successful, it will be difficult to replicate. Although there wasn’t much political bickering within San Diego over the cushy living quarters for its criminals, there likely would be elsewhere. Las Colinas, which cost $221 million to build, is expensive, and the staffing intensive; the programmatic efforts require even more hands on deck. And, to be clear, less than half the population gets to take advantage of the open campus; violent and other serious offenders are still housed in more traditional cell blocks — though they, too, are painted in calming colors. Meanwhile, plenty of architects believe they shouldn’t be putting resources toward locking people away at all, on the grounds that doing so strengthens the prison-industrial complex....
Sure enough, an unholy number of variables would have to align for Las Colinas to succeed in changing its prisoners’ lives. But officials believe failing at something different beats failing at the same thing, over and over. “If it doesn’t work, we haven’t lost anything,” Schroeder says. “Why wouldn’t we go for it?”
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Federal judicial power to expunge old convictions getting lots of (hip?) attention in EDNY
It is perhaps fitting that in the Eastern District of New York, home to hipster haven Brooklyn, has become the central location for an important new discussion and debate over important (and hip?) questions concerning the legal authority of federal judges to expunge old convictions. The always great Collateral Consequences Resource Center has highlights of some of the goings on via these two new posts:
The first of these above-referenced posts discusses this fascinating amicus brief filed this past week in one of two federal expungement cases before US Distrct Judge John Gleeson, a brief which the judge requested and which merits it own separate future post.
The second of the posts from CCRC spotlights that, perhaps unsurprisingly, now that Judge Gleeson has suggested federal judges might have some authority to expunge old convictions, other judges are being asked to consider doing the same.
In my view, these matters are (and should continue to be) hot and hip not only for persons interested in criminal justice reform issues, but also for those interested more general in federal court powers and what a judiciary can and should do given gaps in statutory answers to importance criminal justice questions.
Friday, October 09, 2015
Highlighting who is now highlighting the inefficacy of sex offender registries
This new local Ohio article, headlined "Sex offender registries draw criticism from some unlikely sources," spotlights that some perhaps unexpected voices are advocating against sex offender registries. Here are excertps (with links from the source):
You might think that all advocates for rape victims would support the practice of forcing sex offenders to publicly register their addresses after their release from prison. But you would be mistaken.
Growing numbers of victim advocates and criminal justice researchers are among those who have concluded that sex offender registries are too costly and provide little or no protection to the public. "The registry gives the appearance that our community is safer, but we really question whether it lives up to that expectation," said Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center....
It's not surprising that defense attorneys oppose the registries, but therapists and victim's advocates also are among those calling for change.
"The biggest frustration we have with the registry is it feeds into the myths that the general public has about sexual assault," Miller said. "It feeds this stranger-danger mentality when we know it's such a small fraction of the sexual assaults that occur in our community." Miller said the registries give people a "false sense of security" that sex offenders can be easily identified and avoided, when that's not the case.
Tyffani Dent, a clinical director at the Abraxas Counseling Center and a psychologist who works with both victims and offenders, said registries spread law enforcement too thin. Deputies have to check in not only on repeat, violent offenders but also teenagers who sent illicit text messages to their girlfriends, and who pose little threat to their neighbors. "I want for victims to get justice," she said. "Unfortunately, registration the way it is now doesn't do what it's designed to do."
Several large-scale studies have shown that registries don't do much to prevent criminals from committing new crimes.
- A 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that "Megan's Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses."
- A 2011 study from the University of Chicago found that "registered sex offenders have higher rates of recidivism" than those who did not have to register.
- Another study published in 2011 found that a registration requirement has a deterrent effect on sexual offenders, but the notification aspect of the registries leads to higher rates of offense because of the social and financial costs to the offender.
- A 2004 Canadian study found that "after 15 years, 73 percent of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offense."
Dent doesn't think the registry system should be abandoned entirely. Instead, she favors registering only the most dangerous offenders. That would free up resources for preventative measures and treatment, such as mental health therapy, which Dent said has been proven to reduce recidivism. In particular, Dent said cognitive behavioral therapies, which address the way people think and behave, have been proven to reduce recidivism among sex offenders....
Miller ... noted that victim's services and treatment programs are both underfunded, and could use some of the more than half a million dollars Cuyahoga County spends maintaining its registry. "It really is a question of where do we put our resources where we're going to have the maximum impact and I'm not sure the sex offender registry is where we're getting the most impact," Miller said.
This companion story to the one quoted above carries the headline "Sex offender says registry amounts to punishment for life." Here is how it starts:
Nearly three decades ago, Emil Basista was convicted of raping a 33-year-old woman. While serving time in prison, he was retroactively labeled as a sexual predator, a designation that requires him to report where he lives every 90 days to the sheriff's department. Basista, 66, is one of several thousand Ohioans who have tried to challenge the state's sexual offender registration requirements, contending that the publicly accessible registries amount to life-long punishment.
October 9, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Astute review of (too-often neglected and really critical) back-end criminal justice developments
The October issue of Governing magazine has this lengthy new article that effectively spotlights aspects of criminal justice punishment systems that have too often been ignored or overlooked. The article merits a read in full, and its extended headline highlights why everyone should be interested in the stories within: "The Changing Relationship Between Ex-Criminals and Their Parole Officers: Rather than acting as former offenders' enemies, parole and probation officers are now working to be their mentors. Can it reduce recidivism?". Here are excerpts:
Oftentimes, parole and probation officers are the only positive role models offenders have. About a decade ago, criminologists began asking if parole and probation visits were a missed opportunity for law enforcement. What if officers developed a more supportive relationship with offenders? What if they demonstrated to clients that they weren’t just checking boxes and delivering sanctions? The working theory was that given some personal attention, offenders might be more receptive to advice about resolving conflicts and avoiding crime.
Amid a flurry of academic journal articles and pilot projects, researchers from the University of Cincinnati developed EPICS, short for Effective Practices in Community Supervision, a new model for structured face-to-face meetings between officers and their clients. While universities in Australia and Canada produced similar approaches based on the same underlying theory, EPICS has become the go-to model for parole and probation in much of the United States. Since 2006, more than 80 state and county criminal justice departments have adopted EPICS....
By focusing on behavioral change, rather than just threats of being thrown back in jail, EPICS and similar efforts may help break the cycle of incarceration. “I don’t think the majority of people on supervision like being criminals,” says Scott Taylor, who runs the department of parole and probation in Multnomah County. “They just can’t figure how to get out of it.”
Law enforcement agencies in this country have been engaged in community supervision for more than 150 years, basing their practice on the idea that some convicted criminals can reintegrate into society, so long as they meet with assigned officers on a regular basis. Community supervision takes two primary forms: probation and parole. Generally speaking, probation is an alternative to incarceration, and parole is early release from prison. People on probation tend to be convicted of less serious offenses than people on parole....
EPICS is part of a larger change that is developing within the nation’s parole and probation systems. Parole boards are under scrutiny for keeping people in prison without explaining why they don’t qualify for supervised release in the community. Many states have changed sentencing requirements so that nonviolent offenders are increasingly the responsibility of local jails and community supervision agencies, not state prisons. Parole and probation officers are using risk assessment tools to concentrate services on the people who are most likely to reoffend.
Since 2000, anywhere from 4.5 million to 5 million adults have been under community supervision in a given year, but as prisons come under increasing pressure to lower their inmate populations, the number of offenders on parole and probation is certain to grow. In the past, parole and probation agencies have generally ignored research that suggests ways to reduce recidivism; the field has been stuck in a mode of monitoring and enforced compliance. As more offenders are released to community supervision, however, agencies are showing an interest in ideas designed to cut down on criminal behavior. EPICS is one of those ideas.
October 7, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Early prisoner release following reduced drug guideline retroactivity about to be reality
It seems like a real long time ago that the US Sentencing Commission suggested it might reduced the severity of its drug sentencing guidelines across the board. (In fact, it was way back in early January 2014, as reported in this post.) That USSC proposal a few month later became a formal guideline amendment known as drugs -2 (as reported here in April 2014); some months after that, the USSC formally voted to make this reduced guideline fully retroactive to those already serving long federal drug prison sentences (as reported here in July 2014).
But when making its reduced drug guidelines retroactive, the USSC also provided that no federal drug prisoner should be released until fall 2015 in order to give courts and prisons time to process all thousands of folks who would not be eligible to seek early release. Now, as this new Washington Post piece reports, all this USSC reform is finally going to mean thousands of prisoners actually securing early releases:
The Justice Department is set to release about 6,000 inmates early from prison — the largest one-time release of federal prisoners — in an effort to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past three decades.
The inmates from federal prisons nationwide will be set free by the department’s Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. Most of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release.
The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — which reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive....
The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process.
“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports sentencing reform. The Sentencing Commission estimated that an additional 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release between this Nov. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016....
The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously for the reduction last year after holding two public hearings in which members heard testimony from former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., federal judges, federal public defenders, state and local law enforcement officials, and sentencing advocates. The panel also received more than 80,000 public comment letters, with the overwhelming majority favoring the change.
Congress did not act to disapprove the change to the sentencing guidelines, so it became effective on Nov. 1, 2014. The commission then gave the Justice Department a year to prepare for the huge release of inmates.
The policy change is referred to as “Drugs Minus Two.” Federal sentencing guidelines rely on a numeric system based on different factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the type of crime, whether a gun was involved and whether the defendant was a leader in a drug group. The sentencing panel’s change decreased the value attached to most drug-trafficking offenses by two levels, regardless of the type of drug or the amount.
An average of about two years is being shaved off eligible prisoners’ sentences under the change. Although some of the inmates who will be released have served decades, on average they will have served 8 1/2 years instead of 10 1/2 , according to a Justice Department official.
“Even with the Sentencing Commission’s reductions, drug offenders will have served substantial prison sentences,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “Moreover, these reductions are not automatic. Under the commission’s directive, federal judges are required to carefully consider public safety in deciding whether to reduce an inmate’s sentence.”
In each case, inmates must petition a judge, who decides whether to grant the sentencing reduction. Judges nationwide are granting about 70 sentence reductions per week, Justice officials said. Some of the inmates already have been sent to halfway houses.
In some cases, federal judges have denied inmates’ requests for early release. For example, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth recently denied requests from two top associates of Rayful Edmond III, one of the District’s most notorious drug kingpins. Federal prosecutors did not oppose a request by defense lawyers to have the associates, Melvin D. Butler and James Antonio Jones, released early in November. But last month Lamberth denied the request, which would have cut about two years from each man’s projected 28 1/2 -year sentence....
Critics, including some federal prosecutors, judges and police officials, have raised concerns that allowing so many inmates to be released at the same time could cause crime to increase.
But Justice officials said that about one-third of the inmates who will be released in a few weeks are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported. They also pointed to a study last year that found that the recidivism rate for offenders who were released early after changes in crack-cocaine sentencing guidelines in 2007 was not significantly different from the rate for offenders who completed their sentences.
Friday, October 02, 2015
"What happens when Americans in prison come home?"
The question in the title of this post is a set-up for this terrific podcast now available via Radio Open Source (a weekly arts, politics and ideas public radio out of WBUR Boston). Highlights from the podcast are available at this link, and her is how the website with the podcast describes its context and contents:
We’re going inside the almost invisible world of American prisons, following President Obama and Pope Francis. This month we met and spoke to four survivors of mass incarceration — Azan Reid, Unique Ismail, Douglas Benton, and Marselle Felton — in a church basement in Codman Square, Dorchester. We asked them: what did prison do, or undo, in you? What do you see now that you didn’t see then? And what don’t we know about you?
It’s a story of ambient violence and neglect in Boston’s Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods in the 1980s and ’90s. Twenty years on these men are stuck in the fight of their lives — to beat the odds and stay out of the pipeline back to prison. Amid it all there’s anger, regret, and wisdom; they’re panicked and hopeful, too. As a bipartisan group of senators wonder how America might stop being the world’s runaway jailer, we’re looking at hints of an aftermath: what will happen when and if the 2 million Americans presently incarcerated come home?
Pastor Bruce Wall of Global Ministries Christian Church oversaw the discussion and joined us in studio with his impressions.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Depressing new 2005 released-prisoner recidivism data from BJS (with lots of spin possibiities)
I just received notice of this notable new Bureau of Justice Statistics report titled "Multistate Criminal History Patterns of Prisoners Released in 30 States." Though the BJS report and this BJS press release and this BJS summary are primarily focused on state prisoners released in 2005 who were thereafter arrested in another state, the biggest big-picture message is that for the BJS cohort of roughly 400,000 studied state prisoners released in 2005, nearly 80% were rearrested within the next five years. I cannot help but be depressed and saddened that only about one in five persons released from state prisons in 2005 was able to avoid significant contact with the criminal justice system over the subsequent five years.
Unsurprisingly, Bill Otis and other supporters and advocates of modern American incarceration levels have generally stressed these disconcerting recidivism data to assert crime is certain to increase if we enact reforms to significantly reduce our prison populations and let more folks out of prison sooner. But it bears remembering that these 2005 released prisoners served their time in state prisons and were released when the national prison population was continuing to grow and limited state resources were generally being devoted toward sending more people to prison and spending less money trying to keep people out of prison (or to aid reentry when prisoners were being released). These data thus also suggest what many reform-advocating criminologists have long said: the life disruptions and other impact of a prison term (especially when followed by poor reentry efforts) is itself criminogenic and thus serves to increase the likelihood an offender will commit crimes once released.
However one thinks about these new BJS data, it is depressingly obvious that the experience of prison for those prisoners released in 2005 seems to have done a very poor job of encouraging past offenders from becoming repeat offenders. I am cautiously hopeful that an array of prison and reentry reforms enacted by many states over the last decade will result in a much lower recidivism rate for state prisoners now being released in 2015. But only time (and lots of careful data analysis) will tell.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
"Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Family"
The title of this post is the title of this new report based on research by a number of public policy groups. Here is the executive summary:
For decades, individuals, families, and communities—especially low-income people and communities of color—have faced destabilizing and detrimental impacts as a result of our nation’s unfair criminal justice policies. The repercussions of these policies extend far beyond sentencing and incarceration, affecting the employment, education, housing, and health of individuals and their families for years to come. A unique contribution to the body of research, the study explores the ways in which women support their incarcerated loved ones, often jeopardizing their own stability. Our nation can no longer afford the devastating financial and familial costs of incarceration if we truly want to foster communities that are healthy, sustainable, and just.
As a result of this research, recommendations are made for three key categories of critical reforms necessary to change the criminal justice system and to help stabilize and support vulnerable families, communities, and formerly incarcerated individuals: Restructuring and Reinvesting, Removing Barriers, and Restoring Opportunities.
Restructuring and Reinvesting: Following the lead of states like California, all states need to restructure their policies to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons and the sentences they serve. The money saved from reducing incarceration rates should be used instead to reinvest in services that work, such as substance abuse programs and stable housing, which have proven to reduce recidivism rates. Additionally, sentencing needs to shift focus to accountability, safety, and healing the people involved rather than punishing those convicted of crimes.
Removing Barriers: Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face significant barriers accessing critical resources like housing and employment that they need to survive and move forward. Many are denied public benefits like food stamps and most are unable to pursue training or education that would provide improved opportunities for the future. Families also suffer under these restrictions and risk losing support as a result of their loved one’s conviction. These barriers must be removed in order to help individuals have a chance at success, particularly the many substantial financial obligations that devastate individuals and their families. On the flip side, when incarcerated people maintain contact with their family members on the outside, their likelihood of successful reunification and reentry increases, and their chances of recidivating are reduced. For most families the cost of maintaining contact is too great to bear and must be lowered if families are to stay intact. Removing cost and other barriers to contact is essential.
Restoring Opportunities: Focusing energy on investing and supporting formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and the communities from which they come can restore their opportunities for a brighter future and the ability to participate in society at large. Savings from criminal justice reforms should be combined with general budget allocations and invested in job training and subsidized employment services, for example, to provide the foundation necessary to help individuals and their families succeed prior to system involvement and upon reentry.
Our nation’s criminal justice system has dramatic impacts on the lives of individuals who are incarcerated and the lives of those they touch. These effects wreak financial, physical, and emotional havoc on women, families, and communities, undermining potential for a better life. The true costs of our criminal justice system are complex, deeply rooted, and demand a closer look at the multiple impacts on individuals and families. When these costs are understood and acknowledged, it becomes clear that the system — and society more broadly — must change.
Wednesday, September 09, 2015
Noting federal prison reforms possible without statutory changes
A helpful reader alerted me to this notable Forbes article by Walter Pavlo which highlights ways the federal prison population could be lowered without waiting for whatever Congress might (or still might not) end up doing to reform federal sentencing statutes. The piece is headlined "Prison Reform Is All The Rage, But A Real Opportunity For Change Might Be Missed," and here are excerpts:
Many past U.S. Congress’s have drafted criminal reform bills, only to have them lay dormant in committee. Traditionally, the press releases and sound-bites have only provided false hope to those serving time. The SAFE Act is the most recent and has received some positive press but lacks significant sponsorship in Congress. Then there’s the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Second Chance Reauthorization Act that has recently lost some momentum. There are others, but none worth mentioning....
There are many ways to use existing legislation and policies to reduce populations that need more focus and advocacy. First, we need to allow more old and sick inmates to go home under compassionate release programs by crediting “earned” good conduct time towards program eligibility. Second, rather than building new prisons, the federal government should divert the funding to build out of the Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) infrastructure and allow for more direct community placement designations, which was the true intent of the Second Chance Act under 18 USC 3624. Next, early deportation options should also be explored for those who are in the U.S. illegally.
We have a problem of aging, sick inmates in the federal prison system. There are currently six (6) major medical facilities that offer treatments for inmates for various ailments ranging from dialysis to chemotherapy. It’s expensive with some estimates being as high as $57,000 per year per inmate. The recidivism studies show far lower rates of recidivism for elderly offenders.
Halfway house, RRCs, offer a chance for inmates to serve the remainder of their time in the community working in a regular job, integrating with their family and learning skills. According to [Jack] Donson [a retired BOP employee], the BOP has the statutory authority to place offenders directly in halfway house at any time because the Federal Courts have made clear that RRC’s are penal or correctional facilities within the meaning of the applicable statues. “Having a person in a community correctional treatment program including a job and integrating with their family is far better than any program the BOP could ever offer and inmate.” So an RRC is basically a prison where inmates serve their debt to society … except that it would be MORE beneficial to most everyone....
While we wait for the next prison reform bill, let’s hope it is a comprehensive Omnibus Crime bill with both front end and back end (retroactive) measures that can be quickly implemented with a simultaneous build out of the RRC infrastructure. Congressmen and senators would do us all a service by putting pressure on the Department of Justice to use the existing policies and laws to begin changing prisons now.
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
"The Pointless Banishment of Sex Offenders"
The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times editorial in today's paper. Here are excerpts:
It’s a chilling image: the sex predator skulking in the shadows of a swing set, waiting to snatch a vulnerable child.
Over the past two decades, that scenario has led to a wave of laws around the country restricting where people convicted of sex offenses may live — in many cases, no closer than 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks or other areas where children gather. In some places, these “predator-free zones” put an entire town or county off limits, sometimes for life, even for those whose offenses had nothing to do with children.
Protecting children from sexual abuse is, of course, a paramount concern. But there is not a single piece of evidence that these laws actually do that. For one thing, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed not by strangers but by acquaintances or relatives. And residency laws drive tens of thousands of people to the fringes of society, forcing them to live in motels, out of cars or under bridges. The laws apply to many and sometimes all sex offenders, regardless of whether they were convicted for molesting a child or for public urination.
Lately, judges have been pushing back. So far in 2015, state supreme courts in California, Massachusetts and New York have struck down residency laws.... The United States Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on residency restrictions, although a 2003 ruling upholding mandatory registration for sex offenders suggested that such laws may violate the Constitution.
It is understandable to want to do everything possible to protect children from being abused. But not all people who have been convicted of sex offenses pose a risk to children, if they pose any risk at all . Blanket residency-restriction laws disregard that reality — and the merits of an individualized approach to risk assessment — in favor of a comforting mirage of safety.
Friday, September 04, 2015
"American Criminal Record Exceptionalism"
The title of this post is the titel of this new paper by Kevin Lapp now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In recent decades, criminal records have proliferated and come to be more consequential than ever. James B. Jacobs’s new book, THE ETERNAL CRIMINAL RECORD (2015), documents their broad scope, wide availability, and the long, devastating shadow that criminal records cast.
In this Review, I organize the material in this challenging book into three different claims about American criminal record policy: that in the United States, criminal records are exceptionally public, exceptionally punitive, and exceptionally permanent. I explain how this results in an inexpensive means of sorting and inflicting punishment by devolving a great portion of the work to private actors and the general public. It also presents a public policy conundrum for American criminal justice: the more information we collect and share about suspected criminals and actual offenders, the easier it is to identify and discriminate against those marked individuals. This, it turns out, increases recidivism, therefore undermining the public safety goal at the heart of comprehensive, accessible criminal records. To counter this perverse outcome, I marshal evidence and optimism for reforms that Jacobs considers either unattainable or unwarranted, including the possibility of juvenile justice policy serving as a blueprint for a more redemptive criminal record policy for all.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Prison realities and reform insights from "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison"
Politico magazine has this fascinating excerpt from a new book titled "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis." The book is authored by Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state senator, who spent a year in federal prison for violating federal election laws, and parts of the excerpt read a bit like the Y-chromisone version of Orange is the New Black. But, as these passage highlight, it appears the book covers much more than just the fish-out-of-water elements of prison life for a white-collar offender:
Long story short: Five years after losing the election, I pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice for impeding the federal investigation Carnahan had initiated. But I requested an unorthodox sentence: two years of home confinement and full-time community service during which I would be allowed to leave my house only to teach civics and coach basketball at a St. Louis charter school I’d co-founded a decade earlier. It would’ve saved taxpayers about $175,000: two years of a teacher’s salary, plus the cost of housing a federal prisoner, since I would’ve paid for my electronic monitoring. More than 300 people, including a bipartisan group of the state’s top elected officials, wrote public letters to the to the judge requesting clemency and arguing that — as the prison counselor in Kentucky would later note — locking me up would be a waste. But the Feds portrayed me as the mastermind of a “textbook case of political corruption” and pushed for a harsh sentence at the top of the federal guidelines. The judge gave me a year and a day in federal prison.
Six months later, I was adrift in a sea of sharks — a professor-turned-politician-turned-felon forced to learn prison patois and the politics of survival. Among other areas, I’d studied and taught criminal justice policy as a political scientist for a decade. But in prison I would be the student, not the teacher.
This is the story of what I learned — about my fellow prisoners, the guards and administrators, and the system in which we operated. It is a cautionary tale of friendship and betrayal. It is a story of how politics prepared me — and didn’t — for prison, and how prison prepared me for life. But more broadly, it is a scathing indictment of a system that teaches prisoners to be better criminals instead of better citizens, and a prescription for how America can begin to decarcerate and harness the untapped potential of 2.2 million incarcerated people through programs that will transform offenders’ lives, infuse our economy with entrepreneurial energy, increase public safety and save taxpayers billions by slashing sky-high recidivism rates....
Prisons have been called “training grounds for rapists,” and according to one estimate based on two decades of surveys, nearly 300,000 rapes occur annually in U.S. prisons. The most recent Justice Department data concluded that from 2003 to 2012, nearly 2 million inmates were sexually assaulted, costing society as much as $51.9 billion annually, including the costs of victims’ compensation and increased recidivism. Advocates hoped that passage of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which sought to prevent, uncover and address sexual assault, would help, but many large states have refused to comply with it (with little consequence). In 2011, a typical prisoner’s likelihood of being raped was roughly 30 times higher than that of a given woman on the outside, suggesting a depressingly steady trendline despite PREA’s passage. And since reporting assaults will only bring more trouble from fellow prisoners and COs alike, most victims remain quiet, rendering official prison data unreliably low.
Exacerbating this is a dearth of post-rape psychological treatment during incarceration and reentry, which increases the likelihood that victims will suffer from PTSD as well as their odds of recidivism — especially for crimes involving sexual assault. Tragically, prison rape often causes compensatory aggression as untreated victims commit rapes upon release to reclaim their manhood in the same way they imagine it was lost. This vicious cycle by which (frequently) nonviolent offenders become violent is the opposite of the duty that “correctional institutions” are meant to perform....
I spent less than a year in prison. In the words of my first cellie, I had less time in prison than he had done on the prison toilet. I had every advantage upon re-entry: I was a white guy with a Ph.D. from a top school, community and family support, and financial savings. Yet getting a decent job was a struggle. I often think about the re-entry of the guys I was locked up. Most had a GED earned in prison; some hadn’t had a visit in years, or even a decade, and had no one to call on the phone; few had savings to fall back on. They would be coming home to a world in which four of five landlords and nine of 10 employers run criminal background checks on prospective tenants and employees to screen out felons, in which many are not allowed to vote or use food stamps and in which they must immediately find money to pay for a halfway house room and urinalysis tests even as they cannot afford clothes for a job interview.
Mass incarceration is driven in large part by sky-high recidivism rates, and when one contemplates the myriad obstacles to successful prisoner re-entry, one grasps that the system is not, as many claim, broken at all; rather, it appears to be a well-oiled machine, keeping millions of people out of our economic mainstream. And only a shift in our cultural mindset — a realization that people who are incarcerated could, to paraphrase President Obama after his recent prison visit to a federal prison, be our brothers, our sons, our mothers, or ourselves — will change that.
Friday, August 28, 2015
Massachusetts SJC rules local sex offender restrictions preempted by state law
As reported in this Boston Globe article, "Massachusetts cities and towns cannot broadly restrict where sex offenders can live, the state’s highest court ruled Friday, declaring that measures in place in more than 40 municipalities were in conflict with state law." Here is more on the ruling:
The decision came as the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court ruling on a Lynn ordinance that the judges said would have affected 95 percent of the city’s residential properties. The court decried the measure, which it said conflicted with a 1999 state law that set up a system to keep track of sex offenders in communities.
“Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law and the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past when whole communities of persons, such Native Americans and Japanese-Americans may be lawfully banished from our midst,” the ruling said.
Timothy Phelan, who sponsored the Lynn ordinance when was City Council president in 2011, called the decision discouraging and disappointing. SJC rules against sex offender zone laws in Mass. “It seems like the rights of children are taking a back seat to what is politically correct,” Phelan said.
The ordinance placed strict limits on the ability of Level 2 and 3 sex offenders — those deemed by the state to have moderate and high risks of reoffending — from living within 1,000 feet of a park or school.
John Reinstein, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of three registered sex offenders, said the strong language in the ruling is “a shot across the bow to any attempt to provide the authority for broad-based restrictions to cities and towns.” Reinstein began work on the subject while he was legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and continued after his retirement in 2013.
He and his colleagues had urged the court to reject the law on constitutional grounds, arguing that it violated the fundamental rights of sex offenders to move freely within the state and choose where they live.
Friday’s decision instead followed a lower court ruling in deciding that the ordinance violated “home rule” provisions because it is a local measure in conflict with state law. The outcome leaves open the possibility that lawmakers could restore the ability of municipalities to create residency restrictions for sex offenders.
The full unanimous Massachusetts SJC ruling is available at this link.
August 28, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
New research report examines impact of "Realignment" on crime in California in 2014
Via an email from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), I received news about this notable new research report titled "Realignment and Crime in 2014: California’s Violent Crime in Decline." Here is how the CJCJ report was summarized in the email I received:
A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of Public Safety Realignment on county crime given newly produced 2014 data. CJCJ finds no causal relationship between Realignment and changes in rates of reported Part I offenses.
• Since Realignment was implemented in 2011, statewide violent crime and property crime have generally decreased. This decline seems to be a continuation of the downward crime trend of the past two decades that has not demonstrably been affected by Realignment.
• Almost all counties experienced a decrease in their rates of state prison commitments for non-violent offenses in 2013 versus 2010. However, these declines showed no correlation with changes in crime rates in individual counties in 2014 versus 2010. For example, Orange County’s rate of non-violent prison admissions decreased by 53 percent along with substantial reductions in crime, while adjacent Riverside County saw a 30 percent decrease in non-violent prison admission rates along with less favorable crime trends.
• Trends in motor vehicle theft, which some researchers have connected to Realignment, were highly erratic among individual counties (for example, down 35 percent in Fresno County; up 102 percent in Shasta County). No correlations between Realignment and motor vehicle theft were apparent.
This report builds on CJCJ's previous county-level analyses finding that no definitive conclusions can be drawn about the impact, if any, of Realignment on crime at this time. Instead, this report highlights nine “model counties” that have shown uniquely large decreases in reliance on state prisons alongside uniquely large reductions in property, violent, and total crime. Policymakers should study the measures taken in these nine counties to better implement effective and safe statewide decarceration strategies.
August 26, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
"Can a Federal Prisoner Be Too Old to Jail?"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new National Journal article. Here are excerpts:
When you're locked in federal prison, how old do you have to be to count as "aging"?
That's the question two federal agencies are grappling over, and the answer they pick will determine how the government spends more than $800 million in public funding for prisons. And for tens of thousands of federal inmates, it could mean the difference between becoming eligible for a late-life release program and spending their twilight years behind bars.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is struggling to adjust to an aging prison population, a product, in part, of criminal-justice reforms of the late 1980s that dramatically reduced federal parole and imposed mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses. In fiscal 2013, the Federal Bureau of Prisons spent nearly 20 percent of its $6.9 billion budget to incarcerate inmates aged 50 and older. And without a policy intervention, those costs are set to rise: Inmates aged 50 and older make up the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, according to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
To meet those costs, the Bureau of Prisons is requesting a 6.1 percent increase in funding for fiscal 2016, an increase from the bureau's $6.9 billion budget in 2015. But in a report released in May, the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General suggested the Bureau of Prisons consider an alternative solution: expand a "compassionate-release" program that reduces the term of imprisonment for elderly inmates.
To be eligible for the reduced sentencing program, inmates must have "chronic or serious medical conditions relating to the aging process" that "substantially diminish their ability to function in a correctional facility" for which "conventional treatment promises no substantial improvement," according to a statement from the Bureau of Prisons. They must also have served more than half of their sentence. For inmates looking for early release under nonmedical circumstances, the time-served bar is higher: "the greater of 10 years or 75 percent of their term."...
But for any of the above criteria to be considered, the inmate must be aged 65 or older. The Inspector General report did not explicitly call on the Bureau of Prisons to lower the limit in its May report. Instead, it recommended the bureau reconsider the age bar and noted the potential advantages of setting it at age 50.
The lower threshold would cut incarceration costs and relieve prison overcrowding without significantly increasing recidivism rates, the report said. The report notes several ways in which prisoners 50 and over differ from the rest of the prison population. Older inmates cost an average of 8 percent more to confine, but they are also less likely to end up back in prison after release. While the recidivism rate among all prisoners is 41 percent, for those released after age 50, the rate falls to 15 percent.
According to the Inspector General report, lowering the threshold age from 65 to 50 and instituting a 5 percent release rate for only those inmates in minimum or low-security institutions or medical centers could reduce incarceration costs by approximately $28 million per year. Federal prisons with the most aging inmates spent "five times more per inmate on medical care" and "14 times more per inmate on medication" than institutions with the fewest aging inmates, the report said.
The 65-or-over bar for the program is relatively new, set in 2013 in an effort to clarify the release program's eligibility criteria following a separate Inspector General report released earlier that year.... For now, it's unclear whether the Bureau of Prisons will lower the minimum age for its compassionate-release program. In its response to the May Inspector General report, the agency said it would "raise the issue with relevant stakeholders for further discussion."
August 18, 2015 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)
Saturday, August 08, 2015
Ohio Gov (and GOP Prez candidate) links Obamacare and crime/recidivism reduction
I am a big fan of Ohio Gov John Kasich for a variety of reasons, and my affinity for the guy is significantly enhanced by the fact that he has, as noted in this article, appropriately linked health care reforms and public safety. The article is headlined "Kasich Says Obamacare Empties Prisons — In a Good Way," and here are excerpts:
The Ohio governor says the program, unpopular with Republicans, has reduced recidivism rates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended his expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.
The Medicaid expansion, unpopular among many of the Republican faithful, has benefited mentally ill prison inmates, said Kasich. “I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life,” he said.
“Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addictions or problems,” Kasich added. “We now treat them in the prisons, release them in the community and the recidivism rate is 10 percent….”
I have highlighted in a number of prior posts that a lot of "wonks" have sensibly suggested that Obamacare might prove over time to be an extraordinarily valuable public safety achievement. Here are some of these prior posts:
- "Can Obamacare Reduce the Cost of Corrections?"
- "Obamacare Is a Powerful New Crime-Fighting Tool"
- Might Obamacare end up reducing prison populations "more than any reform in a generation"?
- Another effective review of how Obamacare could be "an antidote to crime"
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
AG Lynch and Secretary Duncan make pitch for Pell Grant pilot program for federal prisoners
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have this notable new USA Today op-ed under the full headline "To cut crime, turn jailbirds into bookworms: We need a prison to productivity pipeline." Here are excerpts:
Few interventions have been shown to reduce recidivism and prepare people in prison to lead law-abiding, productive lives like access to quality postsecondary education and training. The benefits of investing in these opportunities, which also include improved employment outcomes, extend to the individual and to society. In a study funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, RAND Corporation estimated that incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education are 43% less likely to return to prison within three years. And for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, five dollars are saved on re-incarceration costs. A recent report from the President’s Council on Economic Advisors notes the annual cost of incarceration for a single juvenile is over $100,000 — almost twice as high as tuition, room and board and fees at the most expensive college in the country and nearly 100 times as expensive as a year of intensive mentoring.
Nearly every person behind bars will one day leave prison — approximately 700,000 annually. Setting these Americans up for success is smart economics and a critically important investment in our future.
Unfortunately, for many incarcerated individuals, this type of life-changing opportunity is unavailable. In 1994, Congress amended the Higher Education Act to ban incarcerated individuals in federal and state penal institutions from accessing Pell Grants, which could be used to help qualified inmates pay for college classes or training. This ban was passed despite the fact that higher education has been shown to reduce recidivism and despite the fact that incarcerated students made up less than 1% of all Pell Grant recipients.
The Obama administration has taken an important step toward helping people in prison contribute to the economy, transition back into their communities and stay out of the justice system after they reenter society. The Department of Education announced a new Pell Grant Experimental Site program that will allow a limited number of incarcerated individuals to be eligible to receive Pell Grants to pay for education and training programs from colleges and universities. The Department of Justice is providing technical assistance to the correctional facilities under the pilot program. We will test how restoring Pell Grant eligibility could affect educational and other outcomes. This pilot will not prevent any eligible Pell recipient from receiving a grant. What we learn will inform our efforts — and the efforts of states and localities — moving forward in this area....
By preparing these learners to achieve their academic and career goals, we strengthen the families and communities that depend on their success. And that is fundamentally good for America.
"Should prison sentences be based on crimes that haven’t been committed yet?"
The question in the title of this post is subheadline of this new Marshall Project feature story about modern risk assessment tool being used at sentencing. The lengthy piece, carrying the main headline "The New Science of Sentencing," merits a read in full, and here are excerpts:
Pennsylvania is on the verge of becoming one of the first states in the country to base criminal sentences not only on what crimes people have been convicted of, but also on whether they are deemed likely to commit additional crimes. As early as next year, judges there could receive statistically derived tools known as risk assessments to help them decide how much prison time — if any — to assign.
Risk assessments have existed in various forms for a century, but over the past two decades, they have spread through the American justice system, driven by advances in social science. The tools try to predict recidivism — repeat offending or breaking the rules of probation or parole — using statistical probabilities based on factors such as age, employment history and prior criminal record. They are now used at some stage of the criminal justice process in nearly every state. Many court systems use the tools to guide decisions about which prisoners to release on parole, for example, and risk assessments are becoming increasingly popular as a way to help set bail for inmates awaiting trial.
But Pennsylvania is about to take a step most states have until now resisted for adult defendants: using risk assessment in sentencing itself. A state commission is putting the finishing touches on a plan that, if implemented as expected, could allow some offenders considered low risk to get shorter prison sentences than they would otherwise or avoid incarceration entirely. Those deemed high risk could spend more time behind bars....
[T]he approach has bipartisan appeal: Among some conservatives, risk assessment appeals to the desire to spend tax dollars on locking up only those criminals who are truly dangerous to society. And some liberals hope a data-driven justice system will be less punitive overall and correct for the personal, often subconscious biases of police, judges and probation officers. In theory, using risk assessment tools could lead to both less incarceration and less crime.
There are more than 60 risk assessment tools in use across the U.S., and they vary widely. But in their simplest form, they are questionnaires — typically filled out by a jail staff member, probation officer or psychologist — that assign points to offenders based on anything from demographic factors to family background to criminal history. The resulting scores are based on statistical probabilities derived from previous offenders’ behavior. A low score designates an offender as “low risk” and could result in lower bail, less prison time or less restrictive probation or parole terms; a high score can lead to tougher sentences or tighter monitoring.
The risk assessment trend is controversial. Critics have raised numerous questions: Is it fair to make decisions in an individual case based on what similar offenders have done in the past? Is it acceptable to use characteristics that might be associated with race or socioeconomic status, such as the criminal record of a person’s parents? And even if states can resolve such philosophical questions, there are also practical ones: What to do about unreliable data? Which of the many available tools — some of them licensed by for-profit companies — should policymakers choose?...
The core questions around risk assessment aren’t about data. They are about what the goals of criminal justice reforms should be. Some supporters see reducing incarceration as the primary goal; others want to focus on reducing recidivism; still others want to eliminate racial disparities. Risk assessments have drawn widespread support in part because, as long as they remain in the realm of the theoretical, they can accomplish all those goals. But once they enter the real world, there are usually trade-offs.
August 4, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Obama Administration talking up restoring Pell grants for incarcerated
As reported in this Wall Street Journal article, the "Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system." This strikes me as big (and potentially controversial) news, and here are more of the details:
The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens....
A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t. Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.
An Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Asked Monday whether the agency would restore Pell grants for prisoners, Mr. Duncan told reporters, “Stay tuned.”
Stephen Steurer, head of the Correctional Education Association, an advocacy group, said two Education Department officials told him at a conference early this month the agency was moving to restore Pell grants for prisoners and allow many colleges and universities to participate. Money from the grants would directly reimburse institutions for the cost of delivering courses in prisons rather than go to prisoners, Mr. Steurer said.
“It will be substantial enough to create some data and to create enough information for some evaluation,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D., Ill.), who is co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Donna Edwards (D., Md.) to permanently restore Pell grants for prisoners. “I think the political landscape has actually changed since the 1990s,” said Ms. Edwards. “We haven’t really been able to get a handle on recidivism. We have to present some training and opportunities. These are programs that work.”
She said her bill would cost relatively little up front—in the tens of millions of dollars—while having the potential to cut societal costs over the long term by reducing recidivism rates. Maryland spends nearly $40,000 a year per prisoner, she said.
But spending tax dollars on college for prisoners strikes many as an affront to families that have borrowed heavily in recent years to cope with skyrocketing college costs, causing student debt to soar to $1.3 trillion. “If we really want to keep people out of prison, we need to promote education at younger ages,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.).
Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tabled a plan to use state dollars on in-prison college courses because of opposition from lawmakers. But in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in June that includes $12 million to promote statewide priorities, including college classes in state prison, said state Sen. Loni Hancock, whose 2014 bill paved the way for an agreement between California corrections officials and the chancellor of the state’s community colleges. Ms. Hancock said classes could begin as soon as this fall.