Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Washington state struggling with potential corrections budget cuts
This recent article from the Seattle Times, which is headlined "Budget woes: Will parolees get a free pass?," discusses some of the potential criminal justice consequences of budget cut realities in Washington state. Here are excerpts:
Prison inmates convicted of murder and other violent crimes could be released without supervision if state lawmakers agree to a drastic set of cuts outlined by the state Department of Corrections.
Under one proposal, roughly 12,000 of the 17,000 felons now supervised in the state's version of parole would be unsupervised upon release from prison, a move one Department of Corrections (DOC) official called "devastating."
Other "reduction alternatives" proposed by DOC include increasing inmates' health-care co-pays to $4 from $3 and releasing inmates judged to be low and moderate risks to re-offend 120 days early, as long as they had not been convicted of a sex offense.
Hoping to head off some proposed cuts, Corrections officials are making budget trims in advance of the state Legislature's special session set for the end of November. Among expenditures that could be on the chopping block is a 1,000-bed prison that DOC plans to open in Western Washington by 2016.
The state, which is looking to cut nearly $2 billion from the budget this biennium, has asked nearly all major state agencies to submit budget plans reflecting both 5 percent and 10 percent across-the-board cuts. DOC's budget for the current biennium, which ends in June 2013, is $1.6 billion. The department already has cut $250 million from its budget over the past three years by closing three prisons and slashing 1,200 jobs.
The deepest cut discussed by DOC would be to the agency's community corrections, or parole, division. Under the worst-case scenario of a 10 percent cut, 12,000 convicts could be released from community supervision, a move that would save the state about $92 million over 18 months. It also would require laying off 510 DOC community corrections officers and support staff, Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said....
Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees (WSFE), which represents about 40,000 state workers, warns that the cuts to community corrections could endanger the public. "We view it as wiping out community supervision, and that's going to harm public safety," Welch said. "It's a neutron bomb against public safety."
Welch, whose union represents about 1,200 community corrections employees, said the WSFE supports several options to achieve cost savings, including the possibility of putting a proposal before voters to raise taxes.
"It's so devastating, I can't imagine what community corrections would look like," said Mark Janney, a community corrections supervisor who heads a DOC office in North Seattle. "We would be the Department of Prisons."...
If the 10 percent proposal is approved, most sex offenders not still in prison, including those supervised by GPS tracking bracelets, no longer would be supervised. Felons convicted of murder, kidnapping, assault and other violent crimes also no longer would be supervised upon release.
In addition to not having a probation officer with whom to check in, inmates being released would not have help finding services such as housing and treatment for mental health and substance abuse. Felons who would remain on community supervision would be drug and sex offenders court-ordered to serve a reduced sentence, which includes a combination of incarceration and treatment. Felons ordered to serve probation for out-of-state crimes also would remain on supervision.
"You're talking about releasing inmates early, without any supervision. It's just really frightening," said Tracey Thompson, secretary of Teamsters Local 117, which represents about 5,500 corrections officers who work inside the prisons. "How much deeper can you cut in this area without significantly undermining public safety and staff safety?"
In the past, the DOC has been sued by victims of crime for failing to supervise felons adequately. In 2010, for example, the state paid $4.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a Burien woman who suffered brain injuries when she was struck by a car driven by a mentally ill felon under DOC supervision.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Oklahoma using electronic monitoring to enable earlier prisoner releases
As detailed in this interesting local article, headlined "Hundreds of Oklahoma prisoners could be released Nov. 1," a notable sentencing reform plan incorporating technocorrections goes into effect this week in the Sooner State. Here are the particulars (along with the usual expressions of concern from the tough-on-crime crowd):
Oklahoma corrections officials say they are preparing to put as many as 250 to 300 inmates in ankle monitors and release them. Prosecutors throughout the state are upset.
The inmates, convicted of nonviolent offenses, are set to be released starting Nov. 1. That is when a new law intended to relieve prison overcrowding goes into effect. The law changes when certain nonviolent inmates become eligible for ankle monitors.
“I suspect that many — if not most — of the legislators that voted for this didn't realize it was going to have the result of releasing several hundred inmates on Nov. 1,” said Michael Fields, district attorney for Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties.
“I have a hard time believing that legislators understood that whenever they agreed to vote for this law,” Fields said. “I doubt that would have been their intent because many of those legislators are our allies on public safety issues. I think that this clearly does undermine public safety.”
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the goal actually is to increase public safety. He said the change will put more low-risk, mostly female inmates into the successful electronic monitoring program so corrections officials can focus their limited resources on inmates who are truly threats to society....
Currently, in general, no nonviolent inmate is eligible for an ankle monitor until he gets down to the last 11 months of his sentence. Starting Nov. 1, offenders with sentences of five years or less become eligible once they have served 90 days, if no other restrictions apply.
Prosecutors said Friday public confidence in sentences will be undermined if quick releases start happening. “Then, I will stop sending people to prison for less than five years,” said Greg Mashburn, district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties. “I mean, I'll have no choice. If I intended them to go to prison, I intended them to stay for more than 90 days. I will absolutely adjust what I'm doing on my cases so this isn't happening.”
Mashburn said ankle monitors haven't worked well in his counties. He recalled three instances where offenders on ankle monitors committed crimes. “Ankle monitors, it's not the great answer. ... A lot of people think, ‘Well, if they're on an ankle monitor, we can stop them from committing crimes.' All we're going to be able do is know where they were when they were committing the crime,” Mashburn said.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he worries whether the overburdened and underfunded Corrections Department will have enough officers to keep track of the hundreds of new inmates on ankle monitors. “It's almost impossible for them to adequately supervise even people on probation,” Prater said. “There's no way that the Department of Corrections has the capability to adequately supervise those prisoners on ankle monitors and assure the public that they will be kept safe.”
Corrections Department Director Justin Jones said few inmates will get ankle monitors after only 90 days. Most will need more time. “It would be the exception and not the rule,” Jones said. “Some needs are going to have to be addressed … before we put them into a re-entry program. … Rational behavior training, substance abuse, anger management, parenting skills, fatherhood skills, those kinds of things.”
Corrections officials originally came up with a list of 1,133 nonviolent offenders already serving sentences to be considered for ankle monitors because of the new law.
The original list included burglars, drug offenders, embezzlers, drunken drivers and thieves. Officials have been eliminating from that list inmates who do not qualify for ankle monitors for other reasons, such as they have no suitable residences where they can go.
Prosecutors say they have been told as many as 600 inmates will get ankle monitors Nov. 1. But the Corrections Department director said the list is now down to around 400 and will probably be cut down to 250 to 300.
“We consider it a very successful re-entry program,” Jones said. “And it is controlled. And it is custody because of the devices and the supervision by an officer.” The director said more than 90 percent of the females who get ankle monitors succeed and 86 percent of the males do....
About 450 convicts already are on ankle monitors, a Corrections Department spokesman said. Their movements are tracked by GPS. The House speaker and Corrections Department director both said most of the inmates who will be getting ankle monitors Nov. 1 are already in halfway houses and other community correction centers. Steele said he understands more officers have been hired to track their movements. “I really do think it's much ado about nothing,” Steele said of prosecutors' concerns.
Whatever Oklahoma prosecutors might say say about what they think their state legislators did not realize, I suspect somebody behind this legislation concluded that it was more politically palatable than raising taxes to pay for more prison beds. (I have long thought that if state sentencing reforms included an automatic increase in prosecutorial funding based on a percentage of savings that come from decreases in incarceration levels, prosecutors would not always have such a predictable reaction to sentencing reforms that result in some early releases.)
October 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Thursday, October 06, 2011
In praise (I think) of Georgia's efforts to put prisoners to work on farms
The title of this post summarizes my (ambivalently) positive reaction to this notable and fascinating new Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, which is headlined "Georgia may use prisoners to fill farm labor gap." Here are the details:
State officials have set their sights on another potential pool of workers to help bridge Georgia’s severe farm labor gap: prisoners. The idea is to put nonviolent inmates -- who are spending the end of their prison terms at one of the state’s 13 transitional centers -- to work picking fruits and vegetables across Georgia.
This is at least the state’s second attempt to tackle the labor shortages since enacting a tough new immigration law many farmers blame for their problems. State officials started experimenting last summer by encouraging criminal probationers to work on the farms, but results are mixed.
State officials hope the nonviolent offenders would be motivated to learn new skills, earn money and eventually land steady jobs that would help them once they get out of prison. The prisoners would help fill open jobs in Georgia’s $68.8 billion agricultural industry, the state’s largest. And Farmers could become eligible for federal Work Opportunity tax credits by hiring the offenders once they finish their terms.
State Corrections Department officials confirmed the details of the latest plan Wednesday, calling it a joint effort between the agency, Gov. Nathan Deal and state agriculture and labor officials. They said the idea is still under development, and they have not set a start date.
The work would be voluntary for the prisoners. Pay would be set by farmers, though it would be at least minimum wage. Prisoners would pay for their transportation to and from the farms.... “Gov. Deal is interested in having an organized system to match a group that needs employment with employers who need labor,” Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for the governor, said. “It’s not a cure-all, but it allows two groups with fixable needs to help each other.”
A state survey of farmers released in June showed they had as many as 11,080 jobs open. On Tuesday, the agriculture industry released a separate report documenting $74.9 million in crop losses tied to farm labor shortages. Some farmers blame Georgia’s new immigration law, House Bill 87, that targets illegal immigrants and those who harbor them. They say the measure is scaring away the Hispanic migrant workers that farmers depend on, putting their crops at risk....
Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said putting prisoners to work on the farms “may be a partial solution.” “I don’t think we are opposed to it,” he said. “We just have got to see how well it will work.”
Deal, who signed HB 87 into law in May, reacted to the labor shortages by proposing putting probationers to work on the farms. Hall said some of the probationers who worked on two vegetable farms in Sumter and Colquitt counties during this summer’s pilot program quit because of the heat, long hours and physically taxing jobs they got.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black summarized more results from the pilot program Tuesday while testifying before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Boarder Security. One farmer who participated in that program found the probationers to be half as productive as his other workers, Black said in written testimony. Another farmer found only 15 to 20 reliable workers out of 104 probationers.
“There were some obvious challenges with using probation labor,” Black said, “and the two producers found that the probationers were unable to harvest at the same rate as the other workers. At the end of the day, both producers agreed that the program had potential to meet the niche needs for farmers desperate for workers.”
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Arizona locality approves ordinance banning sex offenders from all public facilities
As detailed in this local story, which is headlined "Huachuca City bans sex offenders from public facilities," a locality in Arizona has enacted a uniquely broad ban on sex offenders in public spaces. Here are the details:
In a bold and unprecedented move for an Arizona jurisdiction, the town of Huachuca City is cracking down on registered sex offenders by banning them from all public facilities. Mayor and council unanimously approved the ordinance last Thursday, which is set to take effect late October.
“As a town and as a community, we have to protect our children. As a council, we have to make the right calls,” Mayor Byron Robertson told KGUN9 News. “Our police chief indicated that we were having a serious problem with some pedophiles that were being a nuisance and we took steps to overcome that.”
The ordinance creates “child safety zones,” by banning all registered sex offenders from schools, parks, libraries, pools, gymnasiums, sports fields and sports facilities. Sex offenders must pay $100 fine per violation; repeat offenders will be charged with trespassing.
Police say they’ll rely on tips from the community as well as heavy patrolling to enforce the ordinance. “I don’t want to make it sound like Big Brother is watching, but we do have a file on sex offenders in the area, complete with photographs, so our officers will hopefully recognize them,” said Lt. Jennifer Fuller, a spokesperson for the Huachuca City Police Department.
Fuller said the impetus for the ordinance stems from a recent incident, in which a registered sex offender spent time loitering around the public pool and taking photographs, making parents and children uncomfortable....
There are exceptions: Sex offenders may enter public facilities to pick up their children, vote in an election, or to discuss with someone their kids’ health or education.
Friday, September 23, 2011
"Jaycee Dugard sues feds, citing Garrido parole failures"
The title of this post is the headline of this local article out of California, which reports on a tort suit that seems likely to warm the heart of Supremecy Claus and perhaps (many?) others. Here are the basics from the start of the article:
Attorneys for Jaycee Dugard sued the federal government Thursday morning, lambasting federal authorities' decision to cut short Phillip Garrido's prison sentence and their lackluster enforcement of his parole in the 1990s, when he kidnapped Dugard.
The complaint seeks unspecified damages and parallels state proceedings that netted Dugard and her two daughters fathered by Garrido a $20 million settlement from the Legislature last year. Nancy Seltzer, Dugard's Los Angeles-based publicist, said the complaint was filed after Dugard was twice denied mediation by the federal government.
In the filing, Dugard's attorneys reveal that a 35-minute interview with parole officials led to Garrido's release from federal prison in 1987, just 11 years into a 50-year sentence for the rape and kidnapping of a South Lake Tahoe woman in 1976. From there, the filing states, the shortcomings in assessing Garrido's danger to the public only got worse.
Garrido kidnapped Dugard in 1991 and in the course of sexual slavery carried out over the next few years fathered two daughters while keeping them hidden in a backyard compound of tents, sheds and a soundproofed studio that doubled as Dugard's birthing room.
The complaint argues that parole checks and psychiatric evaluations downplayed disturbing spikes in his personality and numerous parole violations, and that federal authorities did not share their full records with state parole agents who took over his supervision in 1999.
Many of the assertions made in the complaint were acknowledged in a federal report on Garrido's parole supervision released this year as well as a state audit in November 2009, about two months after Dugard resurfaced near Antioch.
In a statement, Seltzer said Dugard is not seeking money for herself but rather her nonprofit, the JAYC Foundation, which is aimed at providing treatment and support for victims of abductions and traumatic experiences.
I would be very interested in reader reactions to Dugard's tort suit against the federal government. I am interested not only view about whether Dugard's extreme case justifies a tort award from the feds, but also the broader question of whether tort suits against criminal justice officials for any gross recklessness in supervising dangerous criminals ought to be more common.
Interestingly, because parole was formally abolished in the federal for all crimes committed after 1987, a tort judgment based on failings of federal parole officials in the Dugard case might have only limited long-term impact in the federal system. But, of course, lots of states still have parole mechanisms and this high-profile suit could, at least indirectly, have a big impact on their workings. In addition, federal officials still have some post-prison-release supervision responsibilities under the modern structure of federal "supervised release." A big ruling for Dugard also could, at least indirectly, have a big impact on this part of the modern federal sentencing system.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
A remarkable life-saving reentry story from pro hockey via a murder conspirator
This new AP story, headlined "Mike Danton Uses Prison Skills to Save Teammate," tells a story that sounds like the plot of a mediocre made-for-TV movie. Here are the remarkable details:
Former NHL player Mike Danton was sent to prison for plotting to take a life. In his return to professional hockey, the skills he learned in jail may well have saved one.
Danton, who served a five-year jail term for conspiracy to commit murder, was playing in his first game with Swedish third-division club Ore on Sunday when his linemate Marcus Bengtsson hit his head on the ice after a hard hit and started convulsing. Using the first-aid training he received in prison, Danton dropped to the ice as well, waited for Bengtsson's jaw to unclench and then shoved his hand into his teammate's mouth to stop him from choking on his own tongue.
Danton was convicted in a failed murder-for-hire plot in 2004, and wrote on his blog that "one of the luxuries" of his jail stint was the chance to become a certified first aid responder. "I have seen seizures before. In prison, druggies would come in off the streets and have withdrawals," he wrote. "So, when the convulsions did not (stop) after a couple of minutes, I knew something was wrong."
After Danton stopped the choking, other teammates helped him put the 21-year-old Bengtsson on his side before an ambulance arrived and took him to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and kept overnight....
Bengtsson told Tuesday's edition of local newspaper Dalarnas Tidning that the only thing he can remember from the incident is feeling his leg starting to shake before passing out — and then seeing Danton and other teammates standing over him when he woke up. "I can't describe how thankful I am to Mike and all the others who helped me," Bengtsson said. "It could have been a lot worse."
Danton said he realized quickly that Bengtsson was in danger of choking on his tongue. "With several players and other help surrounding (Bengtsson) on the ice, his face went from normal tone to Christmas red to snow white," he wrote. "In that process, he was on his back and his jaw became locked while bubbles of blood began to spew between his teeth. Only one thing came to mind. His tongue, I thought."
Danton said he had to wait several minutes for Bengtsson's mouth to open before he managed to get his fingers inside "and clawed at his tongue." When the jaw started to clamp down on his fingers again seconds later "I ripped them out before I lost them," he wrote.
Danton was sentenced to 7½ years in prison after pleading guilty in a plot that prosecutors said targeted David Frost, Danton's former junior coach who went on to become his mentor and agent. However, he was released on parole in 2009 after admitting that the intended target had actually been his father, Steve Jefferson.
Danton was a fifth-round pick by New Jersey in 2000 and played 87 career NHL games for the Devils and St. Louis. He was arrested while a member of the Blues in 2004 following a playoff game at San Jose.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
More great commentary at The Crime Report
Regular readers by now may be tired of my frequent promotion of content at The Crime Report, but it is commentary and coverage like the stories below that continue to make it a daily must-read for folks interested in serious coverage of a range of cutting-edge crime and punishment issues:
Monday, August 08, 2011
Florida officials apparently make citizens less safe by toughening policy of restoring rights to freed felons
The title of this post is prompted by this notable new piece from the St. Petersburg Times. The piece is headlined "State toughens policy of restoring rights to freed felons," and here is how it begins:
Desmond Meade served time for cocaine possession and aggravated battery, but turned his life around and overcame the drug and alcohol addictions that forced him to live on the streets of Miami.
Seven years after walking out of state prison, Meade, 44, is in law school and helps run a halfway house for addicts. But what he wants most, he can't get: full citizenship and the right to vote.
Meade is one of 89,833 people waiting to have their civil rights restored by Gov. Rick Scott and three statewide-elected Cabinet members. He's in for a long wait.
Under new rules Scott and the Cabinet adopted in March, Meade must now wait seven years for a clemency hearing. A huge backlog of pending cases means it likely will take much longer for felons to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for office.
"I find it disheartening," said Meade, who, as a second-year law school student at Florida International University, could select a jury before he's allowed to serve on one. "A person such as myself, who has rehabilitated his life, for them to tell me that in spite of all of the accomplishments I've made that I'm not eligible to get my rights restored, is wrong. I find it un-American."
Led by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, officials scrapped a streamlined clemency process begun by former Gov. Charlie Crist that they felt was too easy for ex-offenders. The new system, in effect since March, requires felons to be crime-free for at least five years before their clemency petitions can be considered. Certain classes of violent felons, like Meade, must wait seven years.
But a new report by the Florida Parole Commission shows that a released felon in Florida whose civil rights are restored is much less likely to commit a new crime than others in the overall population of released prisoners. The report, quietly delivered to officials a few weeks ago, has not been discussed publicly.
The agency studied 31,000 cases over a two-year period in 2009 and 2010 and found that about 11 percent of people whose civil rights were restored ended up back in custody. The overall re-offense rate in the state is three times higher — 33 percent — according to the Department of Corrections.
I wonder if any advocates for smarter sentencing reforms — especially folks like Newt Gingrich and others on the right who have gotten involved in the "Right on Crime" campaign — might start vocally criticizing Florida's Governor and Attorney General for scraping a program that has appeared to be effective at reducing recidivism. I fear that seemingly misguided and harmful "toughness" like we see in this Florida setting will not stop unless and until it gets subject to strong and vocal criticism by folks on all sides of the political aisle.
UPDATE: I was able to find on-line at this link the Florida Parole Commission report that is mentioned in this article. Significantly, as Kent Scheidegger properly notes in the comments, this report alone does not itself establish a causal link between restoraction of rights and reduced recidivism as there is surely some correlation between those least likely to reoffend and those who had been geting their rights automatically restored under Florida's old procedures. Still, the fact that restoration was automatic in many cases under the prior rules perhaps suggests that this is more than a mere correlation, and it would be great if Florida officials or outside researchers could and would crunch these numbers further.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Quick circuit split on Tapia's impact for revocation of supervised release
I have been meaning to blog about an interesting First Circuit ruling earlier this month in US v. Molignaro, No. 10-1320 (1st Cir. July 6, 2011) (available here). As revealed by the introductory paragraph quoted below, the First Circuit in Molignaro (per retired Justice Souter sitting by designation) applied SCOTUS's recent ruling in Tapia to reverse a lengthened term of imprisonment intended to facilitate a defendant's rehabilitation upon revocation of his supervised release:
Acting under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e), the district court revoked the order for supervised release and resentenced the defendant. Federal advisory sentencing guidelines recommended imprisonment of 3 to 9 months after such a violation, but the district court ordered 22 months (followed by further supervised release). The court imposed the longer prison sentence so that Molignaro would have ample time to take part in a course of sex therapy at a nearby federal prison (Devens) that could run for up to 18 months, and although the judge did not state the period he would have imposed in the absence of the treatment program, he did say that 9 months would have been too short in light of what he found to be Molignaro's choices to go where children were present and the risk of untoward behavior was great. Molignaro objected that setting the imprisonment term with the goal of providing therapy was error as a matter of law, and that in any case 22 months was unreasonably long. We hold that the resentencing court's objective of tailoring the length of imprisonment to provide adequate time for treatment was barred by statute, and we vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing.
I am finally now getting around to blogging about this interesting First Circuit ruling because yesterday a Fifth Circuit panel came out the other way on this issue in US v. Breland, No. 10-60610 (5th Cir. July 19, 2011) (available here). Breland, which discusses Tapia but not Molignaro, starts this way:
The question presented in this appeal is whether a district court may consider a defendant’s rehabilitative needs when revoking the defendant’s supervised release and requiring him to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison. The district court sentenced the defendant, William C. Breland Jr., to thirty-five months of imprisonment upon revocation of his supervised release. On appeal, Breland challenges the procedural reasonableness of that sentence, arguing that the district court imposed it for the sole purpose of qualifying him for the Bureau of Prison’s (“BOP”) 500-hour drug-treatment program. He also challenges the substantive reasonableness of the sentence. Because the plain language and operation of 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e) and (g), which governs post revocation sentencing, permits the consideration of rehabilitative needs, and because Breland’s sentence is not otherwise unreasonable, we affirm.
July 20, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
"Changing Lives Through Literature: Bibliotherapy and Recidivism Among Probationers"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Russell Schutt now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although probation is the most common correctional disposition in the United States, research indicates that standard probation has little to no effect on recidivism rates. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that enhanced probation programs can reduce the likelihood of additional criminal offending. This paper examines a bibliotherapy program that is designed to reduce criminal offending and has been adopted in at least six states. Called Changing Lives Through Literature, the program reduces probation sentences in exchange for participation in a small discussion focused on a book and including probation officers and judges as well as probationers.
A limited multi-method qualitative study was used to investigate program process and a longitudinal probation database containing offense incidents was used to identify program effect on recidivism. Program participants (673) in five jurisdictions were compared to a comparison sample of 1,574 probationers in the same jurisdictions. The process analysis indicated that many program participants experienced the program as transformative. The impact analysis indicates a significant reduction in the rate of arrests before and after program participation as well as a significant decline in the maximum severity of the offense charged for those who were rearrested. Regression analysis indicates that these declines were independent of background factors, drug use, and years of criminal history and that they were particularly pronounced for drug users and those who were older. These results suggest the importance of a focus in enhanced probation programs on cognitive change and establishing new social relations.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
"Gov. Brownback starts faith-based program for parolees"
The title of this post is the headline of this new article discussing an interesting initiative by the Governor of Kansas to improve reentry services. Here is how it starts:
Kansas needs 5,000 volunteer mentors a year for paroled criminals, Gov. Sam Brownback said this week. He spoke Monday in Wichita at the launch of an effort to merge government resources, social services, churches, businesses and mentors to keep parolees from returning to prison.
He announced the Out4Life faith-based program at the start of three days of workshops in which service providers and others discussed re-entry approaches. The Kansas Department of Corrections will work with Prison Fellowship, a Christian group that created Out4Life about two years ago.
Brownback said he wants a mentor for each released criminal. “What we’re asking is for people of heart in all faiths and people of goodwill to come forward and help us out with this,” he said. “We get it right, the cost to the state goes down, crime goes down in the state.”
Kansas officials say they release about 5,000 inmates a year and about 40 percent of them will return to prison within three years.
As states struggle to offset budget cuts to their re-entry programs, Kansas becomes the 13th state to adopt the program, officials said. “As the states have cut back,” said Pat Nolan, a vice president with the Prison Fellowship, “Out4Life is a way of calling the community and the private sector to come alongside government.”
Alex Luchenitser, a lawyer with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said such programs might coerce people into religion and cut out those who resist. “The states need to provide nonreligious re-entry programming that all inmates can comfortably take part in,” he said.
Nolan said, “We give them the goodness of the gospel,” but people do not have to accept it to get help with finding jobs, housing, substance abuse treatment and supportive relationships. “The mentoring is by far the most effective part,” he said. “A lot of these inmates have never had an adult in their life worth looking up to.”
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Budget realities leading Ohio republicans to embrace progressive prison reforms
As detailed in this Columbus Dispatch piece, headlined "Senate prepares to vote on 'get-out-of-prison-sooner' bill: Measure would shorten inmates' sentences and save Ohio $78 million a year," the republicans in Ohio, who control all the political positions in the state, are on the verge of enacting massive sentencing and prison reforms. Here are the details:
Ohio's criminal-sentencing overhaul is growing, with provisions added by an Ohio Senate panel yesterday requiring prisons to justify why they are keeping inmates 65 or older, provide certificates to help former inmates get jobs, and create an instant diversion program for shoplifters.
The Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-3 late last night to pass a substitute version of House Bill 86 loaded down with new amendments. The bill will be considered by the full Senate today.
Savings are estimated at $78 million annually on prison costs, by diverting nonviolent offenders to community programs and giving inmates credit that would reduce their sentences for participating in treatment and training. It would provide the option of treatment instead of prison for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, allow release of inmates who have served at least 80 percent of their sentences, and equalize penalties for crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine possession.
Gov. John Kasich supports the main provisions of the bill, which he called "common-sense improvements that are badly needed."
One change approved last night would require the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to issue a report justifying why prisoners who are 65 should still be kept in prison. The state now houses 320 prisoners 65 or older and nearly 1,900 inmates 60 or older.
Other changes include a provision that would give inmates who have completed certain programs a "certificate of achievement and employability." That would shield potential employers from on-the-job liability if they hire ex-offenders.
Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, the committee chairman, said another change would permit a sort of instant diversion program for shoplifters. They would not be arrested, but could arrange a community program with the store in lieu of jail time. "This ought to help us some and save money in the process," he said.
Monday, June 20, 2011
"Administering Justice: Removing Statutory Barriers to Reentry"
The title of this piece is the title of this new forthcoming article from Joy Radice now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
After years of swelling prison populations, the reentry into society of people with criminal convictions has become a central criminal justice issue. Scholars, advocates, judges, and lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized that, even after prison, punishment continues from severe civil penalties that are imposed by federal and state statutes on anyone with a conviction. To alleviate the impact of these punishments, they have increasingly endorsed state legislation that creates certificates of rehabilitation. Seven states offer these post-conviction certificates, and six others proposed such legislation in 2011. Many look to New York’s statute as the best model because it is the oldest and most robust. Yet no article has examined New York’s experience with Certificates of Rehabilitation.
This Article draws lessons from the fifty-year history of New York’s Certificates of Rehabilitation to describe features of an ideal administrative mechanism that removes statutory barriers to reentry. I argue that a model Certificate of Rehabilitation statute will have a strong enforcement mechanism and clear directives for administering authorities. Successful implementation also requires committed administrative leadership and an effective means for making certificates accessible to the population they serve. Certificates of Rehabilitation do not erase a person’s criminal history, but they offer legal and social recognition that after a criminal conviction, a person deserves a second chance.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
"Paroled lifers pose high risk of new crimes: Serious offenders often back in jail in 3 years, review finds"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article appearing in today's Boston Globe. Here are excerpts:
More than a third of the most serious criminal offenders paroled in Massachusetts over the past five years were returned to prison for committing new crimes or violating the conditions of their release, a Globe review has found, raising questions about the public risk posed by granting early release to scores of convicted murderers, as well as the state’s ability to supervise violent criminals on parole.
The Globe analysis, undertaken after last December’s fatal shooting of a Woburn police officer by a career criminal on parole from a life sentence, found that the Parole Board freed 201 prisoners serving 15 years to life from January 2006 through December 2010.
Thirty of the parolees, or 14.9 percent, were returned to prison after being accused of committing new crimes, including murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, as well as less serious offenses such as assault and drunken driving. An additional 39, or 19.4 percent, were sent back because of parole violations such as failing a drug test.
The 34.3 percent reincarceration rate goes directly to the question the Parole Board could not answer after the shooting death of Woburn officer John Maguire last winter: How often do Parole Board decisions to release serious criminals go awry, resulting in new threats to the public? Was paroled lifer Domenic Cinelli’s murderous rampage an anomaly or part of a pattern?
The Globe analysis also appears to contradict a widely held belief in criminal justice circles: that lifers are less likely than other parolees to return to prison because they tend to be older and face the risk of resuming a life sentence if they violate the conditions of their release.
In fact, in 2009, Massachusetts lifers returned to prison more often than parolees convicted of lesser offenses, based on a Parole Board study that found that 22 percent of non-lifers on parole returned to prison.
Josh Wall, the newly installed chairman of the Massachusetts Parole Board, said the Globe’s findings reflect an urgent need for change in the decision-making process used by board members when considering parole applications from violent criminals. He said the board has approved parole for about one-third of the lifers who applied in recent years, but that rate is likely to drop as it adopts newly written guidelines and more rigorous standards. “People who are serving a life sentence who come before the Parole Board assure the Parole Board that they will not commit any new crimes and will obey all the conditions of parole," Wall said. “As we see, 35 percent of those lifers who received parole were unsuccessful in completing those promises. That rate is too high." Wall also said the board will begin tracking the return rate for paroled lifers and improve its collection of information on all parolees — an area in which Massachusetts is severely lacking, especially in comparison with states such as New York.... In the course of its review, the Globe found a number of Parole Board decisions that resulted in the release of repeat, violent criminals who committed serious new crimes once they were paroled....
Other paroled lifers who ended up back in prison appeared to make genuine attempts to forge new lives before they reoffended by committing less serious crimes. Mark Jones, for instance, seemed to make progress after the board paroled him in 2006, nearly 25 years after he was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in a Roxbury shooting when he was a teenager. Jones married and found work at a Home Depot and later as an ambulance driver and a cabbie, and began building a new life, primarily in Lynn. But his marriage foundered as he and his wife fought and finally separated. Jones also failed a urine test that detected marijuana use — an infraction that could have landed him back in prison.
Jones’s parole officer and the officer’s supervisor gave him another chance. But Jones and his estranged wife had another argument, this time over a car she was using, that culminated when Jones punctured the tires of the vehicle. He has been back in prison ever since. Jones, who is now 49, said he did not blame the Parole Board for returning him to prison. But he also said that, if paroled again, he would attempt to begin his freedom under the supervision of a sponsoring organization such as a church that might provide more help than a parole officer is able to give....
Some advocates say that the reincarceration rate for lifers in Massachusetts is not alarming, noting that most went back to jail for violating the terms of their release, while only 15 percent committed new crimes. “The fact that only 30 people were returned for new crimes is a fantastic number and speaks well of parole as a public safety measure," said Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which provides legal services for inmates.
But Wall, a veteran prosecutor who was Governor Deval Patrick’s pick to revamp the Parole Board in the wake of the Cinelli case, said minor criminal offenses or technical violations of parole, such as failing a drug or alcohol test, can be precursors to more serious, violent crimes. “If you know the initial offense, most likely a murder, was committed while drinking, the failure to pass a urine test is more serious than it might be for a parolee whose initial offense was larceny," he said.
Overall, the rate of reincarceration for Massachusetts lifers appears relatively high, at least when compared with New York State, which has tracked murderers and other offenders on parole for decades. Only 19.1 percent of the 1,480 convicted murderers paroled from 1986 to 2006 in New York were returned to prison. In addition, only 2.6 percent were returned for committing new crimes, while 16.6 percent were sent back to prison for committing technical violations of their parole.
The reason for the difference between the states is hard to discern, complicated by the Massachusetts Parole Board’s failure to keep detailed data on recidivism. Peter Cutler, spokesman for New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, attributed the low return rate in his state to a comprehensive effort to assess every inmate’s shortcomings when they enter prison, along with mandatory treatment and job training designed to prepare them for life outside of prison.
On the other hand, the return rate for Massachusetts lifers is lower than the return rate for all state prison inmates, including those who completed shorter sentences and those released with no post-prison supervision. A recent study by the Pew Center on the States, a nonprofit public policy research organization, found that 43.3 percent of people released from the nation’s prisons in 2004 were reincarcerated within three years.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
"Setting an Agenda for Family-Focused Justice Reform"
The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Family Justice Program of the Vera Institute of Justice. Here are excerpts from the report's executive summary:
Research shows that incarcerated youth and adults who have contact with supportive family members have better outcomes after their release. This finding has obvious implications for the corrections, community corrections, and juvenile justice fields. But it also has significant, if sometimes less apparent, consequences for other systems, such as schools, child welfare agencies, health care, and law enforcement.
The Vera Institute of Justice brought together national experts from a range of fields to talk about the next steps for family-focused justice reform. The conversation sharpened the definition of a family-focused approach as one that includes four key components: it is multidisciplinary, it adopts a broad definition of family, it is strength-based, and it is applicable along the continuum of a person’s involvement with the justice system. Participants in the roundtable also described many actions that organizations can to take to leverage the positive influence of families and communities to support people involved in the justice system.
Drawing on that conversation, this report sets forth an agenda for family-focused justice reform ... [and] recommendations are offered to inspire people who work not only in juvenile or criminal justice, but in systems that feel the repercussions of related policy and practice on the local, state, or federal level. It is the authors’ belief that if agencies tap families as a resource, their work will be more effective, to the benefit of the communities they serve.
Monday, May 16, 2011
"Rose (and others) deserve our forgiveness"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary in Cincinnati Enquirer authored by David Singleton, the Executive Director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice & Policy Center. Here is how the commentary links baseball and criminal justice policy through the notion of forgiveness:
In the words of philosopher Jacques Barzun, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." Barzun's quote implies, as several scholars have argued, that baseball is a prism reflecting core American values, such as hard work, fair play, high aspirations and pulling together for the common good.
Forgiveness and redemption are essential to these ideals -- our dedication to them is shown not when the going is easy, but when circumstances test our commitment. The case of Pete Rose, the all-time Major League Baseball hits leader banned from the sport for betting on baseball, gives America's game the opportunity to send a powerful message to society about the necessity of giving second (and, if necessary, third, fourth and fifth chances) to those who break the rules.
Forgiveness and redemption have always been at the heart of America's identity. These concepts are central to all major religious traditions, including those upon which our country was founded. Former President George W. Bush acknowledged as much when he said during his 2004 State of the Union Address: "America is the land of second chance --and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."
President Bush's words resonate with us because we've all made mistakes, some, of course, more serious than others. And we all hope not to be judged forever by the worst we have done but instead by the best we have to offer.
But when it comes to the transgressions of others, too frequently we withhold the forgiveness we seek for ourselves, especially when the wrong committed is serious. We are quick to judge, condemn and ostracize people who have committed felonies or otherwise broken the social contract in significant ways. We call those who have done wrong "criminals," "felons" and "convicts" -- labels we use to dehumanize people to justify our denial to them of full membership in the community. With those labels, we cut people off from America's most distinguishing value: aspiration to better oneself and make life better for those around us.
Each year approximately 700,000 people return from prison to communities across the United States. For most, job prospects are bleak. Not only are employers reluctant to hire someone with a felony record, but state and local laws limit the types of jobs those with criminal records can pursue. In Ohio alone there are more than 400 state laws that restrict employment options for ex-offenders. And without employment, ex-offenders are severely limited in their ability to get back on their feet and productively rejoin society. In recognition of this fact, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to each state on April 18, asking each to review its laws that prevent people with criminal records from obtaining jobs....
So what does any of this have to do with Pete Rose and Major League Baseball? If baseball truly reflects our core values, including forgiveness and redemption, then Major League Baseball should reinstate Rose and make him eligible for the Hall of Fame....
Lifting Rose's lifetime ban would not only benefit baseball -- the Hall of Fame is diminished by the Hit King's absence -- but it would also reinforce the broader social importance of not writing off forever people who have made serious mistakes. America has always taken pride in fostering the highest aspirations of its citizens, regardless of their past deeds or present circumstances. Major League Baseball has a golden opportunity to truly promote forgiveness and redemption, the values inherent in the game itself.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Extensive coverage of Pew recidivism report
As discussed here, yesterday the Pew Center on the States released this important new report titled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons." I am pleased to see today a lot of national and local media coverage of this report, including these pieces:
- From CBS News here, "Breaking the cycle of repeat crime offenders"
- From CNN here, "Report promotes alternatives to prison as national recidivism rate holds steady"
- From the Dayton Daily News here, "Ohio's decline in prison recidivism among steepest in US, study says."
- From the Kansas City Star here, "Study praises efforts in Missouri, Kansas to cut prison recidivism"
- From the Statesman Journal here, "Study hails Oregon's recidivism reduction even as funding cuts threaten it"
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Important new Pew report discusses the "State of Recidivism"
As detailed in this press release, the Pew Center on the States has just produced this important new report titled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons." Here is an overview of the report from the start of the press release:
Despite massive increases in state spending on prisons, America’s national recidivism rate is stubbornly high, with more than four in 10 offenders returned to state prison within three years of their release, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons found that while the overall figures are discouraging, several states have made significant progress in reducing recidivism through a variety of evidence-based strategies.
In the first ever state-by-state survey of recidivism rates, state corrections data show that nearly 43 percent of prisoners released in 2004, and 45 percent of those released in 1999 were reincarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or violating the terms of their supervised release.
Pew’s findings have significant implications for policy makers struggling with painful budget choices. State corrections spending, driven almost entirely by prison expenditures, has quadrupled over the past two decades, making it the second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid. Total state spending on corrections today is more than $50 billion a year.
“There’s been an enormous escalation in prison spending but a barely noticeable impact on the national recidivism rate,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “Some states like Texas have begun to shift dollars into strategies for nonviolent offenders that cost less than prison and are more effective at stopping the revolving door. These troubling national figures should accelerate the trend toward policies that will give taxpayers a better public safety return on their massive expenditure on incarceration.”
The Pew survey methodology differs from the last national study of recidivism rates conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 1994, which found 52 percent of released prisoners were back within three years. While differences in survey methods complicate direct comparisons of national recidivism rates over time, a comparison of the states included in both the Pew and BJS studies reveals that recidivism rates have been largely stable. When California, whose size skews the national picture, is excluded from both studies recidivism rates between 1994 and 2007 have consistently remained around 40 percent.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Interesting report on federal reentry court program in Kansas City
A helpful reader alerted me to this interesting local article, headlined "Ex-cons get help keeping out of crime and on the job," discussing an innovative program developed in federal court in Kansas City. Here are some details:
Under the direction of U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith, a team of probation officers, lawyers and service providers intensely focus on a group of 20 or so probationers, doing everything within reason to keep them sober, employed and crime-free. In exchange, the participants can have years shaved off of their probation.
The work is difficult, said Kim Grace, a senior federal probation officer. Probationers have tested positive for drugs, missed counseling sessions and failed to find employment. The larger consequences couldn’t be more serious: Be part of the two-thirds of all federal probationers who successfully manage their lives and do not return to prison or join the 33 percent who do....
Not everybody gets excited about attending federal re-entry court, which meets twice a month in a huge, wood-paneled courtroom. Stern oil paintings of retired judges stare down at more than a dozen former offenders seated in the jury box.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Smith sent his first re-entry court participant away in handcuffs for testing positive for marijuana use. Another man narrowly missed the same fate — a couple of days in jail — for the same transgression. However, he had attended job counseling as ordered. “The very foundation of a relationship with me is trust,” Smith said. “There are other responses to stress rather than going back to the habits you had before.”
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
States figuring out that helping ex-cons find jobs can be a budget boon
This New York Times piece, headlined "States Help Ex-Inmates Find Jobs," spotlights another benefit of states trying to get smarter on crime in the face of budget crunches. Here is how the piece begins:
Faced with yawning budget gaps and high unemployment, California, Michigan, New York and several other states are attacking both problems with a surprising strategy: helping ex-convicts find jobs to keep them from ending up back in prison.
The approach is backed by prisoner advocates as well as liberal and conservative government officials, who say it pays off in cold, hard numbers. Michigan, for example, spends $35,000 a year to keep someone in prison — more than the cost of educating a University of Michigan student. Through vigorous job placement programs and prudent use of parole, state officials say they have cut the prison population by 7,500, or about 15 percent, over the last four years, yielding more than $200 million in annual savings. Michigan spends $56 million a year on various re-entry programs, including substance abuse treatment and job training.
“We had a $2 billion prison budget, and if you look at the costs saved by not having the system the size it was, we save a lot of money,” said Patricia Caruso, who was Michigan’s corrections commissioner from 2003 through 2010. “If we spend some of that $2 billion on something else — like re-entry programs — and that results in success, that’s a better approach.”
All told, the 50 states and the federal government spend $69 billion a year to house two million prisoners, prompting many budget cutters to see billions in potential savings by trimming the prison population. Each year, more than 600,000 inmates are released nationwide, but studies show that two-thirds are re-arrested within three years.
“An exorbitant amount of money is dedicated to incarcerating people,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “There are ways you can go about reducing the number of people incarcerated. The best way to help them successfully integrate into society and become independent, law-abiding citizens is to make sure they get a job.”
Pushed by faith-based organizations and helped by federal stimulus money, California, Michigan, New York and other states expanded jobs programs in recent years to give prisoners a second chance and to reduce recidivism. The nation’s overall jobless rate is 9.4 percent, but various studies have found unemployment rates of 50 percent or higher for former prisoners nine months or a year after their release.
Many states remain enthusiastic about the re-entry programs, but in a few states facing deficits, like Kansas, officials are cutting them back, partly because of the curtailment of federal stimulus dollars that helped finance them.