Saturday, May 03, 2014
"Harsh Sentencing, Overstuffed Prisons — It's Time for Reform"
The title of this post is the headline given to this new Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Mortimer Zuckerman. Here are excerpts:
Too many people are in prison who should not be there. How many? Most of them! It is not that they are innocent of the offenses that put them there. It is that they are in prison mainly because we have criminalized vast areas for nonviolent offenders and compounded that with a distorted sentencing system. Criminal justice cries out for reform. Congress and the Justice Department have begun to listen.
Since 1980 the U.S. federal prison population has grown by about 800% (to 216,787 this week, according to the Bureau of Prisons), while the country's population has increased only a third. By comparison, under President Reagan, the total correctional-control rate (that includes everyone in prison or jail or on probation or parole) was less than half what it is today. And here's another shocker: At the federal level, nonviolent offenders account for 90% of prisoners....
Federal prisons today house nearly 40% more inmates than they were designed for, many of them repeat offenders. According to an April 2011 report from the Pew Center on the States, more than 40% of state ex-convicts return to their cells within three years of release, and in some states the recidivism rate approaches 60%. The inflexible mandatory-sentencing rules inflict punishments that in many cases no reasonable judge would impose — and then the system turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in. For instance, a June 2013 paper by Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. of MIT found that putting a minor in juvenile detention reduced his likelihood of graduating from high school by 13% and increased his odds of being incarcerated as an adult by 23%.
There is now an awakening to the desperate situation we created (out of the best of motives). It is manifest in Congress, which has a bipartisan bill before it to refocus federal resources on incarcerating violent offenders and move away from low-level ones. We also see the urge for reform in Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as in the states, which together have six times as many prisoners as the federal government....
The states are laboratories of reform led by vigorous governors—who realize that prisons cost the states more than $50 billion a year, up from about $9 billion in 1985. Beginning in 2007, Texas, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, rejected a proposal to build eight more prisons (and has saved an estimated $2 billion overall in projected corrections spending). Instead, Texas is shifting nonviolent offenders from state prisons into alternative treatment, and budgeting for rehabilitative programs for addicts and mentally-ill prisoners. A March 2013 Pew Charitable Trust report on state and consumer initiatives found that the rate of parole failure had dropped 39% since 2007 and Texas had its lowest crime rate since the 1960s.
More than a dozen other states — including Ohio, Georgia and South Carolina — are shortening or even eliminating prison time for the lowest-risk, nonviolent offenders. Instead of spending on more prisons, many states are increasing the number and compensation of parole caseworkers, who in the past have been almost perpetually overwhelmed. Technology like ATM-style check-in stations and ankle bracelets with GPS helps.
But funding is required for the roughly 650,000 federal and state prisoners who are released every year into society. You cannot drop them on the curb to fend for themselves, for two-thirds are rearrested within three years. Enlisting family members to help once their relative leaves prison is one proven way to reduce recidivism. Sentencing nonviolent offenders to a minimum-security prison or even to home confinement is not only cheaper but also eliminates the strain on separated families and reduces the contagion of crime.
We have to be smart and tough on criminal-justice spending, with the goal of getting the most public safety from the more-efficient expenditures of taxpayer dollars. The central idea must be to return significant criminal-justice discretionary dollars to local authorities. Reserve expensive prison beds for career criminals and violent felons, and give local jails the responsibility and funding to oversee low-level inmates involved with less-violent crimes.
The politics of all this are admittedly touchy. But we cannot remain in the mind-set created by the 1980s crime explosion that led to a narrowing of criminals rights and tougher penalties. Think of all the billions spent building prisons that could have been spent on roads, hospitals, schools and airports. If we do not support the initiatives of all three government branches to reform the system, the verdict could only be: Guilty of waste and injustice.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
"Sex offender housing restrictions do more harm than good"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable Concord Monitor editorial. Here are excerpts:
Of all the constituents that politicians want to help out, sex offenders probably rank at the very bottom of the list. But the New Hampshire Senate should summon the courage to do just that. By helping sex offenders, as strange as it sounds, the Senate will end up making life safer for everyone else.
At issue is legislation that would ban cities and towns from placing broad restrictions on where sex offenders may live. Several communities have attempted such restrictions, and lower-court judges have already struck down two as unconstitutional: one in Franklin and one in Dover. In both cities, local officials wanted to keep convicted sex offenders from living too close to places where children regularly gather: schools, day care centers and playgrounds. Several other communities still have such ordinances on the books, among them Tilton, Sanbornton, Northfield and Boscawen.
The impulse to keep sex offenders away from kids via zoning is completely understandable. But there is strong reason to resist. And there is strong reason to set such policy at the state level, rather than leaving it to individual communities.
A growing body of evidence — gathered not just by civil liberties lawyers, but from law enforcement officers, public officials and child advocacy groups — suggests that residency restrictions are placebo pills at best and counterproductive at worst. Such ordinances give communities a false sense of security while driving sex offenders underground or into rural areas where they can’t access the services that give them the best chance at rehabilitation....
An Iowa study, for instance, showed that sexual-abuse convictions had remained steady since statewide residency restrictions went into effect five years earlier but that the number of sex offenders failing to register their addresses with local police departments, as the law required, had more than doubled.And a study in the journal Federal Probation draws a clear link between housing instability — an obvious consequence of residency ordinances — and criminal recidivism. Instead, it suggests a strategy of identifying and carefully monitoring the highest risk offenders and creating stable lives for the rest through treatment and access to housing, jobs and services.
When a sex offender has served his sentence, it is in everyone’s interest that he succeed on the outside. Passing this bill would help.
Friday, March 28, 2014
"Adventures in Risk: Predicting Violent and Sexual Recidivism in Sentencing Law"
The title of this post is the title of this new article by Melissa Hamilton now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Risk has become a focal point of criminal justice policy. Officials draw upon the sciences for the best evidence to differentiate between offenders at high risk of being a future threat to society, for whom preventive incapacitation may be justifiable, and those at low risk, for whom diversion might alleviate the overuse of imprisonment. A recent turn in evidence-based practices is to borrow the newest technologies developed in the forensic mental health field to better classify offenders accordingly to their predicted likelihood of recidivism.
Actuarial risk assessment is considered the new frontier as a progressive sentencing reform, representing best practices in predicting recidivism risk. The actuarial turn is adjudged to offer probabilistic estimates of risk that are objective, reliable, transparent, and logical. Policy groups, state legislatures, judges, and probation offices actively promote the use of actuarial risk assessment, believing the empirically-derived tools effectively standardize sentencing practices, mitigate bias, and thereby increase the legal and moral standing of sentencing outcomes.
Actuarial prediction is promoted as founded upon scientific and empirical principals. This Article critically analyzes the predictive abilities of actuarial risk prediction tools utilizing statistical, empirical, and legal methods. A specific focus herein is the risk prediction of those criminals for whom fear is strongest: violent and sexual offenders.
Several questions are of interest: Is widespread reliance on actuarial sentencing justified? Are actuarial risk results sufficiently relevant, valid, and reliable for sentencing law? Is actuarial evidence too prejudicial, confusing, and misleading to meet evidentiary standards in sentencing?
The Article addresses proponents’ arguments that, regardless of any weaknesses, actuarial risk results should be admissible because they constitute merely one piece of evidence in a multi-faceted decision and that any flaws or errors in the evidence can be deduced through normal adversarial processes.
March 28, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Illinois commission advocates against putting all juve sex offenders on registry
As explained in this AP article, headlined "Commission: Remove Juveniles From Sex Offender Registries," a new public policy report urges Illinois officials to no longer require juvenile sex offenders to register. Here are the basics:
Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders impairs rehabilitation efforts for a crime that very few of them ever commit again, according to a study released Tuesday. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s report recommends ending the practice of making offenders younger than 17 add their names to sex-offender registries, which can negatively affect an offender for years. Every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered must do so for life, the report said.
The 150-page review of laws and treatment practices regarding juvenile sex crimes calls for the state to abolish the categorical requirement for young offenders’ registration. The report [available here], which the General Assembly requested in 2012, says sex crimes committed in youth are seldom repeated in adulthood and that individualized, community-based treatment plans are highly effective and more productive than incarceration.
“Automatic, categorical registries do not protect public safety,” commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from Mount Vernon, told The Associated Press. “There’s no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders’ life, and perhaps the victim’s life.”
Timberlake said the victim, often a family member, loses confidentiality through offender registration and can also suffer from not being able to resume a familial relationship with an offender who is required to register. He added that a registry might be appropriate based on risk. Many states offer courts flexibility.
The report recommends developing statewide standards and training for courts and law enforcement professionals for intervening with young sex offenders and victims. It also calls for a consistent assessment tool for evaluating risks an individual juvenile poses. Also, the report says, offenders whenever possible should be kept in treatment programs in their homes that involve parents as opposed to locking them up.
March 25, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Monday, March 24, 2014
AG Eric Holder announces new rules for federal halfway houses
Via this official press release, I see that Attorney General Eric Holder is continuing his effort to reshape the policies and practices of the federal criminal justice system, this time through new policies and programming for federal halfway houses. The title and subtitle of the press release itself provides a summary of this latest development: "In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior to Release; New Rules Also Instruct Federal Halfway Houses to Provide Transportation Assistance, Cell Phone Access in Order to Help Inmates Seek Employment Opportunities."
Here is more from the start of the press release:
In a new step to further the Justice Department’s efforts towards enhancing reentry among formerly incarcerated individuals, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will impose new requirements on federal halfway houses that help inmates transition back into society. Under the proposed new requirements, these halfway houses will have to provide a specialized form of treatment to prisoners, including those with mental health and substance abuse issues. For the first time, halfway houses will also have to provide greater assistance to inmates who are pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to be used by inmates and providing funds for transportation. The new requirements also expand access to electronic monitoring equipment, such as GPS-equipped ankle bracelets, to allow more inmates to utilize home confinement as a reentry method.
Holder announced the changes in a video message posted on the Department’s website. The BOP’s new policies have the potential to be far-reaching. To ease their transition, those exiting prison typically spend the last few months of their sentence in either a federal halfway house — known as a residential reentry center (RRC) — or under home confinement, or a combination of the two. These community-based programs provide much needed assistance to returning citizens in finding employment and housing, facilitating connections with service providers, reestablishing ties to family and friends, and more.
Last year alone, more than 30,000 federal inmates passed through a halfway house. Among the most significant changes Holder announced is the requirement for standardized Cognitive Behavioral Programming (CBP) to be offered at all federal halfway houses. This treatment will address behavior that places formerly incarcerated individuals at higher risk of recidivism. As part of this treatment requirement, BOP is setting guidelines for instructor qualifications, class size and length, and training for all staff at the halfway houses.
Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Just what is Ohio doing so right with respect to reentry and recidivism? Can it be replicated nationwide?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this wonderful new AP news from my own state, which carries the headline "State reports record-low Ohio prisoner return rate." Here are the details:
Fewer Ohio prisoners than ever are going back to prison after they’ve been released, the state announced Wednesday, attributing the drop to community programs that work with newly released prisoners, and new prison units that prepare people for life outside bars. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says the current inmate return rate of 27.1 percent, down from 28.7 percent a year ago, is far below the national rate of 40 to 44 percent.
The rate affects not just the prison system’s bottom line but the bigger goal of reducing crime in Ohio, prisons director Gary Mohr said. “If our people being released from prison are committing less offenses, then we have less crime victims,” Mohr told The Associated Press. “I think that’s the most important piece.” Saving money on prison operations also means more state dollars can be spent earlier in people’s lives on things like education, he added.
Going forward, the expansion of Medicaid is expected to help connect incarcerated people to needed resources as they come home. The state projects that roughly 366,000 residents will be newly eligible for coverage by the end of June 2015 by increasing the state-federal health care program for poor children and families. Mohr says a lower return rate will also help the state reduce its prisoner population, currently about 50,500.
A 2011 sentencing law meant to lower the number hasn’t had the desired impact, leading to fears that the state may need to spend millions to build a new prison after 2017, while pushing judges to rethink sentences and placing a greater emphasis on rehabilitation. The current prison population hasn’t changed much since 2011, despite projections that it would drop to 47,000 by 2015 and continue to decline.... Ohio’s prisoner population could grow to 52,000 in two years and top 53,000 in six years, Mohr warned last year....
It’s not that the 2011 law is failing. Challenges, including a recent increase in violent crime and an uptick in cases filed by prosecutors, are holding back promises that the law would lower the prisoner population. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has said the courts are also part of the problem and called on judges to be more diligent about reducing the number of offenders behind bars.
The rate announced Wednesday is based on a three-year study of inmates released in 2010.
The report/study on which this article is based is available at this link under the simple title "DRC Recidivism Rates." I would be grateful for any and all help figuring out if there are other big important conclusions or lessons (good or bad) to be drawn from this report beyond the one discussed above.
March 5, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
"15 Years In Environment Of Constant Fear Somehow Fails To Rehabilitate Prisoner"
The title of this post is the headline of this amusing new item in The Onion sent my way by one of my terrific students. Here are highlights from this all-too-biting satire:
Reportedly left dumbfounded by the news that recent parolee Terry Raney had been reincarcerated on charges of assault and battery, officials at Woodbourne Correctional Facility struggled Tuesday to make sense of how the prisoner had not been rehabilitated by 15 years of constant threats, physical abuse, and periodic isolation.
“It just doesn’t seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society,” said chief warden Albert Gunderson, who noted that, as hard as it was to believe, Raney’s recidivism proved that his criminal impulses had not in fact been corrected by the sense of grave distrust he felt toward every other person in the facility, including both fellow inmates and prison authorities, every day since 1999....
Gunderson [also] noted his additional confusion at how the man’s criminal record and the social stigma of his prison sentence had somehow failed to land him a steady job immediately upon his release.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
New York Gov makes serious push for serious educational programming behind bars
This new AP article, headlined "Gov. Cuomo wants state to fund college classes for NY prisoners," reports on a notable new prison proposal coming from a notable elected official. Here are the basics:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to fund college classes in New York prisons, saying a college degree will reduce the likelihood an inmate will return to crime when released. The program will offer associate and bachelor's degree education at 10 prisons, one in each region of the state.
According to Cuomo's office, New York currently spends $60,000 per year on each prisoner, and it will cost approximately $5,000 per year to educate an inmate. Cuomo didn't specify the cost of the overall program. The state will issue a Request for Proposal from qualified educational associations in March.
Since 2007, the state Department of Corrections has partnered with colleges, including Cornell University and Bard College, to offer privately funded degree programs at 22 prisons. The new program will expand on that.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Registered sex offender makes case against sex offender registry
Guy Hamilton-Smith, a registered sex offender and law school graduate who has so-far been denied the opportunity to become a member of the bar, has this new op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader under the headline "Sex-offender registry misguided thinking." Here are excerpts:
I am a sex offender. I know well the tremendous power of those words. In 2007, I pled guilty to possession of child pornography.
Nothing here is meant to defend what I did or to minimize the gravity of my actions. I had a major problem with pornography, and I was far too deep in denial and too scared to reach out to anyone. Help eventually came when my girlfriend discovered child porn on my computer and went to the police. I was then and remain grateful to her for taking that step.
As I went through the legal process after my arrest, I developed a keen interest in the law, and a sincere desire to advocate on the behalf of those who are hated, who are lost, and who are forgotten. With luck, I managed to win acceptance to law school despite my conviction. I worked harder than I'd ever worked in my life, because I knew I'd have a lot to do to overcome my past. I did well in school, graduated, secured a job at a law firm after disclosing my past, and applied to take the bar exam. Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that I will not be allowed to take the bar exam until I am no longer on the sex-offender registry, which will be another 18 years from now.
But the point I want to make is not about me. It isn't about my case. I am not here to say whether the court's decision was right or wrong. The principles at play are much larger than me.
Strange as it may sound coming from a felon and a sex offender, I believe in the necessity of punishment. How else, after all, are people supposed to make amends for the harm that they cause? ... I believe in many ways that my life was saved by virtue of my arrest. I am sensitive to the fact that my crime, and the crimes of others on the sex offender registry, are serious. I do not mean to denigrate the plight of victims, as I was also a victim at one point in my own childhood.
My point, rather, is simply this: punishment that becomes unmoored from considerations of proportionality, redemption and reintegration becomes poison, and we — society, victims and perpetrators — become diminished by it.
Nowhere is this more evident than the sex-offender registry. Those who find themselves constituents of the registry are routinely and uniformly denied the same second chance afforded to so many other criminal defendants after they have served their sentences.
The impetus behind the registry is the popular belief that sex offenders always commit new sex crimes. That view, however, is at odds with data from the Department of Justice and others....
I know that I am not a sympathetic figure by virtue of my crime. I know that I can never change the past or undo the things that I have done. My hope here is that we can have a discussion in this country that is long overdue — namely, what it is that we hope to achieve from our system of criminal justice.
February 10, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack
Thursday, February 06, 2014
"Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry"
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a person sentenced to probation cannot then be incarcerated simply for failing to pay a fine that they genuinely cannot afford. Yet many misdemeanor courts routinely jail probationers who say they cannot afford to pay what they owe — and they do so in reliance on the assurances of for-profit companies with a financial stake in every single one of those cases.
Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time. They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees.
This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US. It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors. It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this. It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay. In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.
The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se. Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protect probationers from abusive and extortionate practices. All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.
February 6, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Monday, January 20, 2014
"Obamacare Is a Powerful New Crime-Fighting Tool"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent article from The Atlantic. The subheading highlights its themes: "An astonishing two-thirds of the 730,000 prisoners released each year have substance abuse or mental health problems. But no one has been willing to pay for their treatment — until now." Here is an excerpt:
An astonishing two-thirds of the 730,000 men and women released from America’s lockups each year have either substance abuse problems, mental health problems, or both. Very often, those problems were largely responsible for getting them locked up in the first place. Most addicted and mentally ill prisoners receive little or no effective treatment while they’re incarcerated or after they’re turned loose, so it’s little surprise that ... they soon wind up back in jail. But for some, that revolving door may stop spinning this year, thanks to a little-noticed side-effect of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, it turns out, might be a crime-fighting tool.
Numerous studies support the common-sense notion that treating offenders’ drug addictions and mental illnesses helps keep at least some of them from going back to jail. Get that junkie off heroin, and maybe he won’t steal your car stereo for fix money; get that mentally ill homeless person on proper medications, and maybe she can find a job instead of turning tricks in alleys. “It’s not the drug itself, it’s the stealing and robbing they do to get the drug,” says Abbie Zimmerman, a therapist at Transitions Clinic, a program based in San Francisco’s hard-bitten Hunter’s Point area that treats former prisoners (including Sanders, who is now an outreach worker there). “If I can keep them sober, I can keep them out of jail.”
But no one has been willing to pay for such treatment for hundreds of thousands of ex-cons. And they certainly can’t afford it themselves: According to a recent report by the Council of State Governments, the vast majority of released prisoners re-enter society with little money and no health insurance. But now many of those former prisoners are eligible for insurance, courtesy of the federal government.
Among many other reforms, the ACA is drastically expanding Medicaid, the federal insurance scheme for the poor. Previously, able-bodied childless adults were generally not covered by Medicaid, regardless of how impoverished they might have been. But starting this year, any American citizen under age 65 with a family income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line — about $25,000 for a family of three — is eligible for Medicaid (at least in the two dozen states that have so far agreed to participate in this aspect of Obamacare). Meanwhile, citizens and legal immigrants earning between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line are now entitled to subsidies to help pay for private insurance. Taken together, those two provisions mean that tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of the inmates released every year are now eligible for health insurance, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse services.
Providing treatment to those former prisoners could yield enormous benefits for all of us. The average cost to incarcerate someone for a year is roughly $25,000. That means if only one percent of each year’s released inmates stay out of trouble, taxpayers will save nearly $200 million annually — and the pool of troubled ex-cons looking to steal your car stereo will be that much smaller. “Success in implementing the Affordable Care Act has the potential to decrease crime, recidivism, and criminal justice costs, while simultaneously improving the health and safety of communities,” sums up a recent report by the federal Department of Justice.
It all looks great on paper. But there are significant obstacles to making this work in the real world. One is the simple fact that many former prisoners aren’t even aware of their new entitlements. “I don’t really know what Obamacare is,” says Ernest Kirkwood, a Transitions client who spent 29 years in prison, when I tell him I’d like to talk to him about the new health care regime. “I never read the newspaper.”
Making services available is one thing. Getting people whose judgment isn’t that great in the first place to actually use them is another. Plenty of drug users and mentally ill people don’t want to admit they have a problem. The stigma that persists around mental illness keeps some should-be patients away. Richard Rawson, a professor of psychiatry specializing in substance abuse at the University of California, Los Angeles, points out that an earlier experiment that provided residential treatment to just-released drug offenders didn’t work as well as hoped. “People said, ‘I just got out, I don’t want to be in rehab for another year,’” he says.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Intermediate NJ appeals panel upholds broad restriction on released sex offender access to social media websites
As reported in this AP article, headlined "NJ panel: Sex offenders can be kept off Facebook," a New Jersey appeals panel handed down today a notable opinion upholding a notable restriction on computer use by released sex offenders. Here are the basics:
A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that paroled sex offenders can be barred from Facebook, LinkedIn and other online social networks.
Two offenders had gone to court to challenge that restriction, saying social networks are important ways to get news, information and find business opportunities.
However, a three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the offenders can be kept off social network as a term of parole. The judges said they agree that the networks are an important facet of modern life, but said there is a good reason to keep convicted sex offenders off them. "The provisions are legitimately aimed at restricting such offenders from participating in unwholesome interactive discussions on the Internet with children or strangers who might fall prey to their potential recidivist behavior," Judge Jack Sabatino said in his opinion. He noted that the parolees can still get news and buy products online.
The ruling referenced in this article is partially available at this link, and here are excerpts from the start of the opinion:
Appellants J.B., L.A., B.M., and W.M. are individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, have completed their respective prison terms, and are now being monitored by respondent New Jersey State Parole Board (the "Parole Board") as of fenders who are subject to either parole supervision for life ("PSL") or its statutory predecessor, community supervision for life ("CSL"). Represented by the same attorney, appellants challenge the constitutionality of certain terms of supervision the Parole Board has imposed upon them. Similar conditions have been imposed on other offenders subject to CSL or PSL, although appellants have not filed a class action.
The terms of supervision mainly being challenged in these related appeals are (1) the Parole Board's restrictions on appellants' access to social media or other comparable web sites on the Internet; and (2) the Parole Board's authority to compel them to submit to periodic polygraph examinations....
For the reasons that follow, we reject appellants' facial challenges to the Internet access restrictions, subject to their right to bring future "as-applied" challenges should they avail themselves of the Parole Board's procedures for requesting specific permission for more expanded Internet access and are then denied such permission.
I expect the defendants here may be eager to appeal this matter to the NJ Supreme Court and maybe even the US Supreme Court, especially since it appears that the internet use restrictions upheld here are set to last a lifetime. And though this case might not be the best vehicle, I suspect that SCOTUS will eventually have to consider what restrictions can be poperly place on internet access for released offenders.
November 26, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Monday, November 18, 2013
Are special jail facilities for veterans (and other special populations) key to reducing recidivism?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable Los Angeles Times article headlined "Separate jail facilities seek to cut recidivism rates among veterans." Here are excerpts:
The N-Module-3 housing wing at the San Diego County Jail was recently repainted red, white and blue. Brightly colored paintings now hang on the walls: one of the Statue of Liberty, another of the U.S. flag, and one of a screaming eagle landing with talons outstretched. Hanging from the ceiling are the service flags of U.S. military branches and the POW/MIA flag.
The paintings and the flags are key to a program begun this month that aims to reduce recidivism among veterans who have slipped into the criminal justice system after leaving the structured world of military service.
Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life. "We're all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back," said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.
Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues. "We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country," said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. "It's a great population to work with."
The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state's prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails. "We've got to do things differently," Gore said....
Nationwide, a small but growing number of jails have housing and programs specifically targeting veterans, an effort that the VA encourages and supports by forming partnerships with local law enforcement. "Being treated as a veteran reminds them of a time when their lives made sense and they deserved the respect of others," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, told a recent convention of the American Correctional Assn.
An estimated 1 in 9 prisoners in the U.S. is a military veteran, according to the Department of Justice. But only 1 in 6 is being helped by the VA with the challenge of resuming life after incarceration, said Shinseki, who has vowed to get more help for those veterans.
The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said. VA "reentry specialists" regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.
In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff's Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.
One of the oldest and most successful of the veterans-behind-bars programs is run by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department at its jail in San Bruno. Begun in 2010, the San Francisco program houses 48 veterans in a separate "pod" where they can receive help from specialists from the VA and the Bay Area nonprofit group Swords to Plowshares....
Most of the jail deputies are volunteers who preferred working with the veterans. "In here, the staff is totally different than out there," said inmate Kimbra Kelley, 49, a former Marine.
There are incentives for inmates to participate, seemingly small to outsiders but very large in the life of the incarcerated: pillows, more television time, more time in the exercise yard, extra mattresses, an extra visit each week from family members, access to a vending machine and, soon, a microwave oven. "This is the future, gentlemen: incentive housing," sheriff's Lt. Steven Wicklander told the inmates during a visit this month.
If any of the 32 veterans quits attending the classes and stays in his cell, he can be returned to general population. There's a waiting list among the 270 veterans in county custody to transfer to N-Module-3. "We were given an opportunity, and we're going to hold on to it for dear life," said Dana Mulvany, 42, who served in the Navy.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Is AG Eric Holder going to stay on the job until he truly reforms American criminal justice?
The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new Washington Post article headlined "Reforming justice system is personal goal for Eric Holder Jr." Here are excerpts from the piece:
As the Justice Department seeks new ways to reduce the burgeoning U.S. prison population, its success is likely to depend on community programs such as the one in this small city in America’s heartland.
In the past 11 years, federal prosecutors here have authorized substance abuse treatment and other assistance for more than 100 low-level offenders as an alternative to prison sentences. Eighty-seven have successfully completed the program and, in the process, saved the federal government more than $6 million by sparing it the cost of incarceration....
Justice officials see the program in Peoria as a model for other communities — and central to the criminal justice reforms that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is moving to implement. In August, at an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco, Holder announced that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences. He has also introduced policies to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates, to find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals, and to improve reentry programs to curb repeat offenses.
The announcements have heralded some of the most significant criminal justice policy shifts from the department in years. For Holder — who has said that as a U.S. attorney and judge he saw neighborhoods destroyed by both illegal drugs and the tough-on-crime legislation that has disproportionately affected black men — the issue has been personal.
“Day after day, I watched lines of young people, most often young men of color, stream through my courtroom,” Holder told ex-offenders Thursday during a visit to a St. Louis courthouse, one of a string of stops he is making to promote his reform agenda. “I learned how drug abuse, crime and incarceration can trap people in a destructive cycle. A cycle that weakens communities, tears families apart and destroys individual lives.”...Many of the department’s criminal justice reforms have bipartisan support, and Republican governors in some of the most conservative states have led the way on prison reform. Congress also has shown a renewed interest in reducing the nation’s prison population, including the introduction of a bill this week that would reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which funds grants for programs that support probation, parole and reentry programs across the country.
“Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former prosecutor and one of the bills sponsors, said in a statement.
Efforts to reduce the prison population have drawn criticism from some lawmakers, who are skeptical that new policies will reduce crime. “I am skeptical,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said at a a hearing last week. “Reducing prison sentences will bring prisoners out on the street sooner. The deterrent effect of imprisonment would be reduced. Many so-called nonviolent drug offenders have violent records. Some of these released offenders will commit additional crimes.”...
In a Philadelphia courtroom earlier this month, the attorney general watched more than a dozen drug offenders in a “reentry” program report to a judge to discuss their personal and work situations. Officials there said the program, which provides parenting classes, vocational training and job opportunities, has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs because fewer ex-offenders are being sent back to prison. The national revocation rate for ex-offenders who are not in such programs is 47 percent; the rate among participants in the seven-year-old Philadelphia program is about 20 percent.
During his stops Thursday, Holder met with judges and pretrial service officers and watched as a district court judge encouraged ex-offenders to overcome their drug addictions and stay out of prison. He spoke emotionally to a group about how his nephew struggled to overcome drug addiction.
Inside a federal courthouse in St. Louis, he watched a ceremony in which ex-offenders graduated from an intensive recovery program called EARN (Expanding Addicts’ Recovery Network). “I look at you all and I see myself,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood in New York City where people like you would have been my friends. We would have gone to school together. We would have tried to learn about girls together. We would have played basketball together. So I can’t help but feel mindful of the fact that, although I’m here in my capacity as attorney general of the United States, a few of the people I grew up with, good people like you, ended up taking different paths.”
“Some of them didn’t catch the same breaks,” the nation’s top law enforcement official said. “Some had to deal with drug issues. . . . I know that everyone makes mistakes — everyone. Including me. And that’s why I wanted to be here today to tell you in person how proud I am that each of you has decided not to let your mistakes define you and not to make excuses, but to make the most of the opportunities that you’ve been given.”
Right after President Obama's re-election, as noted in this post from last November, AG Holder was talking about staying on as AG for only "about a year" into this second Presidential term. But that year has now passed, and I have heard very little new buzz about AG Holder moving on. And, if he is truly committed to engineering significant and lasting criminal justice reform, I think he may need (at least) the next three years to really have a chance to get this done.
November 15, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 07, 2013
State judge in Pennsylvania finds lifetime sex offender registration for juve offenders unconstitutional
As reported in this local article, "a York County judge has ruled unconstitutional a two-year-old Pennsylvania law that imposes lifetime registration requirements on juvenile sex offenders." Here is more:
Senior Judge John C. Uhler issued his ruling against the juvenile registration provisions of the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act while weighing the cases of seven county teens adjudicated as having committed serious sex crimes.
Uhler found that the registration mandate "unconstitutionally forecloses a court's considerations of the many unique attributes of youth and juvenile offenders" under age 18 and improperly treats them the same as adult sex offenders. SORNA, as the act is known, also doesn't take into account the greater capacity juvenile offenders have to reform, he noted.
The state law was passed by the Legislature in late 2011 to comply with a federal law, the Adam Walsh Act. The state faced a loss of federal funding if it didn't adopt a measure compatible with the Walsh Act.
Uhler's ruling is in reply to a challenge mounted on behalf of the seven York County youths by the county public defender's office, the Juvenile Law Center and the Defender Association of Philadelphia. The children involved were subject to registration after being found to have committed crimes including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault. They were ages 14 to 17 when the offenses occurred.
In a statement issued Thursday, officials of the Juvenile Law Center and the defender association called Uhler's decision a "landmark ruling."
"It is our hope that this decision will result in similar findings across the commonwealth," said Riya Saha Shah, a staff attorney with the law center. "To impose this (registration) punishment on children is to set them up for failure."
County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker said his office is reviewing Uhler's decision for a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court. A decision is expected next week, he said. "We're thoroughly going through everything," Barker said.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, predicted an appeal is likely. Prosecutors are well aware of arguments for and against the juvenile sex offender registration requirement, he said. "I'm not surprised that the judge would rule this way," Freed said. "We'll see what happens in the appeals courts."
November 7, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
New Michigan law adds to number of states requiring registered sex offenders to pay yearly feeThis local article report on yet another notable extra bit of punishment now for sex offenders in Michigan. The piece is headlined "Sex Offenders Will Have To Pay To Live In Michigan Under Bill Signed By Gov. Snyder," and here are the details:
Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation requiring registered sex offenders living in Michigan to pay an annual $50 fee. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Rick Jones, replaces the system under which sex offenders paid a one-time $50 fee. Snyder signed the bill into law on Tuesday.
The measure only applies to registered sex offenders who are out of prison. Officials say $20 of each fee would go to local law enforcement and $30 would go to the state. If offenders don’t pay the annual fee, they face misdemeanor charges.
Offenders who can’t afford the fee would have the chance to make their case and receive a 90-day waiver. To do that, offenders would either have to prove in court that they are indigent, are receiving food assistance from the state, or are living under the federal poverty level.
Snyder said the law brings Michigan in line with neighboring states that require sex offenders to pay for the operating cost of sex offender websites. He said Indiana charges $50 per year, while Illinois and Ohio charge offenders $100 per year. The state said the move could bring in about $540,000 more in revenue each year.
But not everybody is on board with the new law. Opponents, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, say it’s merely a feel-good measure that ignores experiences in other states where the promise of more revenue falls well short of expectations and is an overly burdensome cost for registered sex offenders who already struggle to find housing and jobs.
“They have paid their dues … this is a burden that we just keep piling on,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for ACLU of Michigan. She argues that the state is not asking offenders to pay for something that benefits them, but something that is intended to protect citizens. Therefore, the state should pay for it.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Senate Judiciary hearing focused on federal prisons and "Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism"This motning, Tuesday November 6, 2013 at 10am, as detailed at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary titled "Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons & Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism." Here is the official agenda/hearing list:
- Charles E. Samuels, Jr.,Director,
- John E. Wetzel, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
- Representative John Tilley, Chair, Judiciary Committee, Kentucky House of Representatives
- Nancy G. La Vigne, Ph.D., Director, Justice Policy Center, The Urban Institute
- Matt DeLisi, Ph.D., Professor and Coordinator, Criminal Justice Studies, Iowa State University
- Dr. Jeffrey Sedgwick, Managing Partner and Co-Founder Keswick Advisors
I am expecting and hoping that there will be written testimony from some or all of these witnesses posted via the Senate website within the few hours.
Here at The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen sets out "5 Questions for Federal Prisons Chief When He Comes to Capitol Hill"
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
"Looking for Answers on Overcrowded Prisons"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article coming from Philadelphia. The piece is primarily about federal corrections and re-entry issues, as well as on-going work of AG Eric Holder and the Department of Justice. Here are excerpts:
Some ex-offenders here report to federal court twice a month so that judges can gauge their progress, from drug testing and parenting classes to education and job training. It's an attempt to address a stubborn problem: nearly 25 percent of offenders released into federal supervision were rearrested for a new offense within five years, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Another 14 percent violate the conditions of their supervision.
Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a look at the Philadelphia program Tuesday to call attention to an overburdened prison system and the high incidence of repeat criminals, the first of three such visits to promote innovative crime prevention initiatives. Holder will visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
"The common thread of these programs is that it is very difficult to get out of a cycle of crime without proper rehabilitation," Holder said in an interview. "We should not be surprised" at high repeat offender rates "when we see people with education deficits, social deficits and we warehouse them and then just put them back into the same environment that they left."...
Seven years ago, federal judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania created a federal re-entry court that focuses on ex-criminal offenders with a significant risk of returning to a life of crime. The goal of the program is to place participants on a path to employment rather than a cycle of crime. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year. It aims to cut Philadelphia's high violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
Of 186 participants in the Supervision to Aid Re-Entry, or STAR, initiative over the past seven years, 142 have successfully completed the program or remain in it. In a new change designed to keep ex-offenders on the right track, STAR will provide some participants with federal housing assistance under a federal voucher program.
"For every dollar we invest in programs like these we are going to save much more" in prison costs, an outcome that will enable spending limited law-enforcement resources on other priorities, Holder said.
While Philadelphia's program deals with high-risk offenders, the program in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney's office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars....
Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and almost half of the prisoners are serving time for drug-related crimes. Many of them have substance use disorders. In addition, some 9 million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation," Holder told the American Bar Association in August. "To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and re-entry."
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Parole precogs: computerized risk assessments impacting state parole decision-makingPredicting who is likely to commit a crime in the future is no easy task, as fans of "Minority Report" know well. But states that retain discretionary parole release mechanisms to some extent require its officials to do just that. And, as this lengthy Wall Street Journal article explains, state officials are (in my view, wisely) relying more and more on computerized risk assessment instruments when making parole decisions. The WSJ piece is headlined "State Parole Boards Use Software to Decide Which Inmates to Release: Programs look at prisoners' biographies for patterns that predict future crime," and here are excerpts:
Driven to cut ballooning corrections costs, more states are requiring parole boards to make better decisions about which convicts to keep in prison and which to release. Increasingly, parole officials are adopting data- and evidence-based methods, many involving software programs, to calculate an inmate's odds of recidivism.
The policy changes are leading to a quiet and surprising shift across the U.S. in how parole decisions are made. Officials accustomed to relying heavily on experience and intuition when making parole rulings now find they also must take computerized inmate assessments and personality tests into account.
In the traditional system, factors like the severity of a crime or whether an offender shows remorse weigh heavily in parole rulings, criminologists say. By contrast, automated assessments based on inmate interviews and biographical data such as age at first arrest are designed to recognize patterns that may predict future crime and make release decisions more objective, advocates of the new tools say.
In the past several years, at least 15 states including Louisiana, Kentucky, Hawaii and Ohio have implemented policies requiring corrections systems to adopt modern risk-assessment methods, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. California is using computerized inmate assessments to make decisions about levels of supervision for individual parolees. This year, West Virginia began requiring that all felons receive risk assessments; judges receive the reports before sentencing with the option to incorporate the scores into their decisions.
Such methods can contradict the instincts of corrections officials, by classifying violent offenders as a lower recidivism risk than someone convicted of a nonviolent robbery or drug offense. Criminologists say people convicted of crimes like murder often are older when considered for release, making them less likely to reoffend. Inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes like property theft, meanwhile, tend to be younger, more impulsive and adventurous—all predictors of repeat criminality....
Wider acceptance of computerized risk assessments, along with other measures to reduce state corrections budgets, has coincided with the first declines in the national incarceration rate in more than a decade.
The number of inmates in state and federal facilities fell nearly 1% in 2011 to 1.6 million, after edging down 0.1% in the prior year. The 2011 decline came entirely from state prisons, which shed 21,600 inmates, offsetting an increase of 6,600 federal prisoners. Preliminary 2012 data shows an even larger fall in state inmates of 29,000.
Experts say one reason for the decline is that fewer parolees are returning to prison. About 12% of parolees were re-incarcerated at some point in 2011 compared with 15% in 2006, representing the fifth straight year of decline, according to Justice Department data.
Texas, by reputation a tough-on-crime state, has been consistently using risk assessment longer than many states and is boosting the number of prisoners it paroles each year. With its current system, in use since 2001, it released 37% of parole applicants in 2012 versus 28% in 2005 — some 10,000 more prisoners released in 2012.
Officials in Michigan credit computerized assessments, introduced in 2006 and adopted statewide in 2008, with helping reduce the state's prison population by more than 15% from its peak in 2007 and with lowering the three-year recidivism rate by 10 percentage points since 2005.
Still, experts say it is difficult to measure the direct impact of risk prediction because states have also taken other steps to rein in corrections costs, such as reducing penalties for drug offenses and transferring inmates to local jails.
Michigan's assessments withstood a legal challenge in 2011, when prosecutors sought to reverse the parole of Michelle Elias, who had served 25 years for murdering her lover's husband. A lower court, siding with the prosecutor, ruled the parole board hadn't placed enough weight on the "egregious nature of the crime," court documents say. The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the decision and upheld Ms. Elias's release.
Yet earlier this month, the same appeals court ruled the Michigan parole board had abused its discretion by releasing a man convicted of molesting his daughter. He hadn't received sex-offender therapy while in prison, but three assessments, including one using [the computer program] Compas, had deemed him a low risk of reoffending. The appeals court, in an unpublished decision that echoed a lower court, said that Compas could be manipulated if presented "with inadequate data or individuals who lie."
The Compas software designer, Northpointe Inc., says the assessments are meant to improve, not replace, human intelligence. Tim Brennan, chief scientist at Northpointe, a unit of Volaris Group, said the Compas system has features that help detect lying, but data-entry mistakes or inmate deceptiveness can affect accuracy, he said. The company says that officials should override the system's decisions at rates of 8% to 15%.
Many assessment systems lean heavily on research by criminologists including Edward Latessa, professor at the Center for Criminal Justice Research at the University of Cincinnati. Parole boards, typically staffed with political appointees, have lacked the information, training and time to make sound decisions about who should be released, Dr. Latessa said. The process, he said, is one factor contributing to the population surge in the nation's prisons, including a fivefold increase in the number of prisoners nationwide from 1978 to 2009, according to the Department of Justice.
"The problem with a judge or a parole board is they can't pull together all the information they need to make good decisions," said Dr. Latessa, who developed an open-source software assessment system called ORAS used in Ohio and other states. Ohio adopted ORAS last year as the result of legislation aimed at addressing overcrowded prisons and containing corrections spending. Dr. Latessa does paid consulting work with state corrections agencies but isn't paid for use of the system. "They look at one or two things," he said. "Good assessment tools look at 50 things."
Some assessments analyze as many as 100 factors, including whether the offender is married, the age of first arrest and whether he believes his conviction is unfair. In Texas, a rudimentary risk-assessment measures just 10 factors. Data gathered in interviews with inmates is transmitted to the offices of Texas parole board members, who vote remotely, often by computer.
Parole officials say assessment scores are just one factor they consider. Some experts say relying on statistics can result in racial bias, even though questionnaires don't explicitly ask about race. Data such as how many times a person has been incarcerated can act as an unfair proxy for race, said Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science. "There's a real connection between race and prior criminal history, and a real link between prior criminal history and prediction," Mr. Harcourt said. "The two combine in a toxic and combustive way."
Christopher Baird, former head of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, said statistical tools are best used to help set supervision guidelines for parolees rather than determine prison sentences or decide who should be released. "It's very important to realize what their limitations are," said Mr. Baird, who developed one of the earliest risk-assessment tools, for the state of Wisconsin in the late 1970s. "That's lost when you start introducing the word 'prediction' and start applying that to individual cases."
October 13, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Monday, October 07, 2013
"Evidence, Ideology, and Politics in the Making of American Criminal Justice Policy"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by the prolific and profound Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:
The development of a large and productive community of criminal justice programs, scholars, and researchers in the United States since the 1970s has not led to the emergence of a general norm of evidence-based policy making. Nor on many subjects have accumulations of improved knowledge had much influence. On a few they have.
The two best examples of influence are policing and early childhood prevention programs. Concerning policing, a plausible story can be told of an iterative process of research showing that police practices and methods do and do not achieve sought-after results, followed by successive changes in how policing is done. Concerning early childhood programs, a conventional scientific process of hypothesis testing and repeated pilot projects with strong evaluations led to widespread adoption of improved programs and techniques.
Concerning sentencing, sanctioning policies, firearms and violence, and drug policy, by contrast, strong bodies of accumulating evidence have consistently been ignored. Correctional rehabilitation research is a hybrid. Eclipsed in the 1970s by a gloomy view that “nothing works,” research on correctional treatment in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that a wide variety of programs can improve offenders’ lives and reduce reoffending. The findings have influenced the development of reentry and other programs that focus primarily on risk classification and reduction of recidivism rates, but only incidentally on addressing offenders’ social welfare needs.