Monday, March 25, 2013
New report assails Massachusetts sentencing and corrections policies and practicesThis lengthy article from the Boston Globe discusses a big new forthcoming report highlighing failings in the sentencing and punishment systems in Massachusetts. The article is headlined "Report slams state for lack of corrections reform: Crime down, prison costs up as study urges shorter sentences, focus on parole," and it gets started this way:
Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s, as the Commonwealth has clung to tough-on-crime laws that many other states have abandoned as ineffective, according to a study being released this week.
The 40-page report — endorsed by a coalition of prominent former prosecutors, defense attorneys, and justice officials — slams the state for focusing too much on prolonged incarceration, through measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, and for paying too little attention to successfully integrating prisoners back into society.
This is not just a social justice issue, the coalition argues, but a serious budgetary problem. The report estimated that policies that have led to more Draconian sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.
“It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections systems front and back doors — sentencing and release.”
The study says Massachusetts, with its rising prison population, is heading in the opposite direction of several more traditionally law-and-order states — many of which have changed sentencing requirements, closed prisons, and cut costs. While other states have seen drops in incarceration in conjunction with falling crime rates, Massachusetts has seen the opposite.
In addition to the longer prison stays, Torres said, a reduction in post-release supervision has left Massachusetts with a recidivism rate higher than many other states, which in turn has sent more offenders back to prison. New data in the report show that six of every 10 inmates released from state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years. If the recidivism rate was cut by 5 percent, the report says, Massachusetts could cut $150 million from its more than $1 billion corrections budget.
Released in partnership with the newly formed grouping of law-enforcement officials, which is called Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice, a social justice nonprofit group, the report issues include a moratorium on the expansion of state prisons, reexamining sentencing guidelines, and expanding prerelease programs. “In the last 10 years we’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work,” said John Larivee, chief executive of Community Resources for Justice and coauthor of the report.
One key to changing the state’s corrections system, the report’s authors stress, is building bipartisan consensus so neither side can later be accused of being soft on crime. “There’s more bipartisan common ground than you might expect,” said Wayne Budd, a Republican who is one of the reform coalition’s three co-chairmen.
In addition to Budd, the coalition is led by Kevin M. Burke, former state secretary of public safety, and Max D. Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
UPDATE: The full 40-page report, which is titled "Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?," is now available via this link.
March 25, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Thursday, March 14, 2013
"Rethinking the Use of Community Supervision"The title of this post is the title of this important new paper now available on SSRN and authored by Cecelia Klingele. As practitioners and policy-makers know, the back-end of the criminal justice system and the use of alternatives to incarceration are critically important "real world" sentencing issues that only rarely get sustained attention from the legal academy. I am so pleased that Cecelia Klingele is a leading voice help ensuring these important legal and policy issues get the scholarly attention they need and deserve. Here is the abstract of her latest work in this regard:
Community supervision, whether in the form of probation or post-release supervision, is ordinarily framed as an alternative to incarceration. For this reason, legal reformers intent on reducing America's disproportionately high incarceration rates often urge lawmakers to expand the use of community supervision, confident that diverting offenders to the community will significantly reduce over-reliance on incarceration. Yet, on any given day, a significant percentage of new prisoners arrive at the prison gates not as a result of sentencing for a new crime, but because they have been revoked from probation or parole. It is therefore fair to say that in many cases community supervision is not an alternative to imprisonment, but only a delayed form of it.
This Article examines the reasons why community supervision so often fails, and challenges popular assumptions about the role community supervision should play in efforts to reduce over-reliance on imprisonment. While probation and post-release supervision serve important purposes in many cases, they are often imposed on the wrong people, and executed in ways that predictably lead to revocation. To decrease the overuse of imprisonment, sentencing and correctional practices should therefore limit, rather than expand, the use of community supervision in three important ways.
First, terms of community supervision should be imposed in fewer cases, with alternatives ranging from fines to unconditional discharge to short jail terms imposed instead. Second, conditions of probation and post-release supervision should be imposed sparingly, and only when they directly correspond to a risk of re-offense. Finally, terms of community supervision should be limited in duration, extending only long enough to facilitate a period of structured re-integration after sentencing or following a term of incarceration.
March 14, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack
Sunday, March 10, 2013
"Neighborhoods Seek to Banish Sex Offenders by Building Parks"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article in today's New York Times. Here are snippets:
Parents who pick up their children at the bus stop in this city’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood say they often see men wearing GPS ankle bracelets and tell their children to stay away. Just up the street, 30 paroled sex offenders live in a single apartment building, including rapists and child molesters. More than 100 registered sex offenders live within a few miles.
So local residents and city officials developed a plan to force convicted sex offenders to leave their neighborhood: open a tiny park.
Parents here, where state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park, are not the only ones seizing on this approach. From the metropolis of Miami to the small town of Sapulpa, Okla., communities are building pocket parks, sometimes so small that they have barely enough room for a swing set, to drive out sex offenders. One playground installation company in Houston has even advertised its services to homeowners associations as an option for keeping sex offenders away.
Within the next several months, one of Los Angeles’s smallest parks will open here in Harbor Gateway, on a patch of grass less than 1,000 square feet at the corner of a busy intersection. But even if no child ever uses its jungle gym, the park will serve its intended purpose. “Regardless of whether it’s the largest park or the smallest, we’re putting in a park to send a message that we don’t want a high concentration of sex offenders in this community,” said Joe Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who now represents the area on the City Council.
While the pocket parks springing up around the country offer a sense of security to residents, they will probably leave more convicted sex offenders homeless. And research shows that once sex offenders lose stable housing, they become not only harder to track but also more likely to commit another crime, according to state officials involved with managing such offenders.
“Putting in parks doesn’t just break up clusters — it makes it impossible for sex offenders to find housing in the whole city,” said Janet Neeley, a member of the California Sex Offender Management Board. “It’s counterproductive to public safety, because when you have nothing to lose, you are much more likely to commit a crime than when you are rebuilding your life.”
Restrictions on where sex offenders can live, which have been passed in most states, have already rendered most residential areas in many cities off limits. The number of homeless sex offenders in California has increased threefold since 2006, when the latest residency restrictions were passed, and a third of sex offenders on parole are now homeless, according to reports from the Sex Offender Management Board....
Mr. Buscaino said he supported housing for sex offenders, but said the pocket park would improve the quality of life in Harbor Gateway. “Let’s house them, absolutely, but not in a high-population area like this one,” he said.
Many of the sex offenders who live near Harbor Gateway have been placed there with the help of parole officers, precisely so they would not end up on the street. The landlord of some nearby apartments where dozens of sex offenders on parole live, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that keeping paroled sex offenders together in transitional housing actually kept the community safer because it places controls on them even after they leave prison....
In some urban areas, however, there is already nowhere left for sex offenders to legally live. In Miami, dozens of convicted sex offenders camped under a bridge, unable to find any other shelter, until the encampment was broken up several years ago. Another camp in Miami, where a dozen offenders slept on the sidewalk, was dispersed last year when Marc Sarnoff, a city commissioner, had three pocket parks built in the neighborhood.
Mr. Sarnoff said he did not know where the offenders ended up. “There has to be a strategy in place so they don’t just live on the sidewalk,” Mr. Sarnoff said. “We need more resources in place so these guys don’t reoffend. But that’s beyond the city’s resources. It has to be at the state level.”
Sunday, March 03, 2013
Drug courts come to federal system (and New York Times' front page)Regular readers know about the drug courts movement and its (varied but still very important) success as an alternative means to process certain drug offenders through the modern criminal justice system. But, thanks to this big new front-page article in today's New York Times, which is headlined "Outside Box, Federal Judges Offer Addicts a Free Path," the notable new story of drug court development in the federal criminal justice system is due to get a lot more attention. Here are extended passages from the Gray Lady's important coverage of this important federal sentencing story:
Federal judges around the country are teaming up with prosecutors to create special treatment programs for drug-addicted defendants who would otherwise face significant prison time, an effort intended to sidestep drug laws widely seen as inflexible and overly punitive.
The Justice Department has tentatively embraced the new approach, allowing United States attorneys to reduce or even dismiss charges in some drug cases. The effort follows decades of success for “drug courts” at the state level, which legal experts have long cited as a less expensive and more effective alternative to prison for dealing with many low-level repeat offenders.
But it is striking that the model is spreading at the federal level, where judges have increasingly pushed back against rules that restrict their ability to make their own determination of appropriate sentences. So far, federal judges have instituted programs in California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington. About 400 defendants have been involved nationwide.
In Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday, Judge John Gleeson issued an opinion praising the new approach as a way to address swelling prison costs and disproportionate sentences for drug trafficking. “Presentence programs like ours and those in other districts mean that a growing number of courts are no longer reflexively sentencing federal defendants who do not belong in prison to the costly prison terms recommended by the sentencing guidelines,” Judge Gleeson wrote.
The opinion came a year after Judge Gleeson, with the federal agency known as Pretrial Services, started a program that made achieving sobriety an incentive for drug-addicted defendants to avoid prison....
The new approach is being prompted in part by the Obama administration, which previously supported legislation that scaled back sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine. The Justice Department has supported additional changes to the federal sentencing guidelines to permit the use of drug or mental health treatment as an alternative to incarceration for certain low-level offenders and changed its own policies to make those options more available.
“We recognize that imprisonment alone is not a complete strategy for reducing crime,” James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, said in a statement. “Drug courts, re-entry courts and other related programs along with enforcement are all part of the solution.”...
The development of drug courts may meet resistance from some Republicans in Congress. “It is important that courts give deference to Congressional authority over sentencing,” Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin, a member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. He said sentencing should not depend “on what judge happens to decide the case or what judicial circuit the defendant happens to be in.”
At the state level, pretrial drug courts have benefited from bipartisan support, with liberals supporting the programs as more focused on rehabilitation, and conservatives supporting them as a way to cut spending. Under the model being used in state and federal courts, defendants must accept responsibility for their crimes and agree to receive drug treatment and other social services and attend regular meetings with judges who monitor their progress. In return for successful participation, they receive a reduced sentence or no jail time at all. If they fail, they are sent to prison....
In interviews, the federal judges who run the other programs pointed to a mix of reasons for their involvement. Judge Ricardo S. Martinez ran a state drug court in Seattle before he was appointed to the federal bench. “People that have a serious addiction, you can put them in custody, but the minute you put them back in the community, they go back to the same thing and lo and behold you see them again,” Judge Martinez said in an interview.
Some of the most pointed criticism of the status quo has come from Judge Gleeson, a former federal prosecutor. The drug court he helped set up is open to defendants who committed a range of nonviolent crimes, like fraud and selling prescription pills, and whose addictions fueled their actions.
In a 35-page opinion he issued this week, he criticized the Justice Department for charging defendants with drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences, urged the Sentencing Commission to reduce the guideline range for many drug offenses and called for more programs that divert defendants from prison time. The opinion chronicled the case of three graduates of the drug court....
Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said she backed the program because drug courts elsewhere had lowered recidivism rates. “Our overall strategy of law enforcement and crime prevention isn’t just incarceration,” Ms. Lynch said.
At a sentencing hearing for Ms. Leitch last month, a prosecutor vacated her guilty plea and agreed to dismiss the charges if she did not use drugs or get arrested for 18 months. After the hearing, Judge Gleeson offered some encouraging words for the defendant, and then a hug. “I don’t know them as just the judge,” Ms. Leitch said later. “People see judges as the bad guy. They get deeper. They get to know who you are.”
Judge Gleeson's 35-page opinion in US v. Leitch et al, 11-CR-00609 (EDNY Feb. 28, 2013), not only merits NY Times front-oage coverage, but also a read in full. I have uploaded that opinion here.
Some older and newer related posts about drug court programs and research:
- Talk of drug courts, but not major policy changes, in drug war from Obama team
- Important new NACDL report critical of modern drug court movement
- New report on drug courts from The Sentencing Project
- "Rethinking Drug Courts: Restorative Justice as a Response to Racial Injustice"
- NJ commission endorsing expanding drug courts
- A religious pitch for drug courts
- New JPI report expressing concerns about drug courts and net widening
- New research shows positive outcomes from drug court programs
March 3, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Friday, March 01, 2013
Proof of bad people or bad punishments or bad programming?The quirky question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable local article from Pennsylvania, which is headlined "6 in 10 will re-offend: State prison study sets baseline for progress." Here are the details:
Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel on Thursday morning released what he's calling a "landmark study" into recidivism rates at Pennsylvania's state prisons, and the study is noted not for the progress shown, but rather for the lack of change demonstrated.
For more than a decade, a consistent six in ten people released from Pennsylvania state prisons were either re-arrested or put back in prison within three years. What's "landmark" about the study is in part its scope -- more than 12 years -- but largely the fact is sets a "baseline" for going forward.
Wetzel said it marks the first step toward measuring progress. "Citizens of the Commonwealth should have every expectation of a corrections system that actually helps people correct themselves; one that is based on research, not on anecdotal stories and innuendo," said Wetzel.
While population and cost "remain essential measurements" in Gov. Tom Corbett's Corrections Reform initiative, he said, "The 'new normal' is to expect and require quantifiable results."
The study, which Wetzel called "the keystone of the Corbett Corrections Reform initiative," also helps the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole understand who is most likely to re-offend and how. “To get a true picture of whether our state prison system is meeting its goal of reducing future crime, we need to look at more than just the reincarceration of an individual,” Wetzel said. “We need to look at re-arrests as well to see the whole picture of how and when individuals come into contact again with the criminal justice system.”
For example, the study found that more than half of those who will return to prison within three years after release will do so within the first years, which is by far the most risky period for recidivism. Younger offenders are more likely to recidivate than older offenders. Individuals most likely to reoffend appear to be property offenders. Individuals least likely to reoffend are those incarcerated for driving under the influence of intoxicants, rape and arson.
The study looked prisoners' background as well and found a released inmate who has 10 or more prior arrests is greater than 6 times more likely to recidivate than a released inmate with no prior arrest history other than the arrest for the current stay in prison.
According to the study, nearly two-thirds of all reincarcerations within three years of release from prison are for technical parole violations. Nearly three-fourths of rearrests within three years of release from prison are for less serious offenses.
The study also confirmed the damning portrait of Community Corrections Centers outlined in an earlier study performed by Dr. Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati. From 2005 through 2011, inmates paroled to a Community Corrections Center were actually more likely to be back in prison within a year as inmates paroled directly home.
Wetzel said the Department of Corrections can save taxpayers $44.7 million annually by reducing the one-year reincarceration rate by 10 percentage points.
The full 45-page report referenced in this article is available at this link, and the cool infographic that explains the reports key findings comes from the PA Department of Corrections website. One key finding reflected in the infographic is that less than one in five new arrests are for an act of violence. The majority of rearrests are for drug or public order offenses or parole violations.
Obviously, lots of different conclusions and responses can be based in this new recidivism data. But I think most important is to stay ever open-minded about what can be the most effective and efficient kinds of criminal justices responses. This report apparently reveals that for some offenders in some cases recidivism may be lower in the absence of a certain kind of punishment or programming. It is, of course, bad enough when the work of a department of corrections fails to actual help "correct" people. But the ultimate form of government waste exists when there is evidence that the taxpayer funded work of the criminal justice system may be making people worse criminals.
March 1, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, February 25, 2013
California unable to keep up with sex offender who disable GPS tracking devicesThe Los Angeles Times has this new article highlighting yet another dysfunction in California's operation of its criminal justice system. The full headline provides an effective summary of the lengthy piece: "Paroled sex offenders disarming tracking devices: Thousands of high-risk parolees are removing GPS monitors, often with little risk of serving time, because jails are too full to hold them. Some have been charged with new crimes." Here is how the article gets started:
Thousands of paroled child molesters, rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in California are removing or disarming their court-ordered GPS tracking devices — and some have been charged with new crimes including sexual battery, kidnapping and attempted manslaughter.
The offenders have discovered that they can disable the monitors, often with little risk of serving time for it, a Times investigation has found. The jails are too full to hold them. "It's a huge problem," said Fresno parole agent Matt Hill. "If the public knew, they'd be shocked."
More than 3,400 arrest warrants for GPS tamperers have been issued since October 2011, when the state began referring parole violators to county jails instead of returning them to its packed prisons. Warrants increased 28% in 2012 compared to the 12 months before the change in custody began. Nearly all of the warrants were for sex offenders, who are the vast majority of convicts with monitors, and many were for repeat violations.
The custody shift is part of Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature's "realignment" program, to comply with court orders to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. But many counties have been under their own court orders to ease crowding in their jails. Some have freed parole violators within days, or even hours, of arrest rather than keep them in custody. Some have refused to accept them at all.
Before prison realignment took effect, sex offenders who breached parole remained behind bars, awaiting hearings that could send them back to prison for up to a year. Now, the maximum penalty is 180 days in jail, but many never serve that time. With so little deterrent, parolees "certainly are feeling more bold," said Jack Wallace, an executive at the California Sex Offender Management Board.
Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker, was arrested three times in two months after skipping parole and was freed almost immediately each time. After his third release, his GPS alarm went off and he vanished, law enforcement records show. The next day, he turned up in a Stockton living room where a 15-year-old girl was asleep on the couch, police said. The girl told police she awoke to find the stranger staring at her and that he asked "Wanna date?" before leaving the home.
Police say Mam went back twice more that week and menaced the girl and her 13-year-old sister, getting in by giving candy to a toddler, before authorities recaptured him in a local park. He is in custody on new charges of child molestation.
Californians voted in 2006 to require that high-risk sex offenders be tracked for life with GPS monitors strapped to their bodies. The devices are programmed to record offenders' movements and are intended, at least in part, to deter them from committing crimes. The devices, attached to rubber ankle straps embedded with fiber-optic cable, transmit signals monitored by a private contractor.
They are easy to cut off, but an alarm is triggered when that happens, as it is when they are interfered with in other ways or go dead, or when an offender enters a forbidden area such as a school zone or playground. The monitoring company alerts parole agents by text message or email.
Arrest warrants for GPS tamperers are automatically published online. The Times reviewed that data as well as thousands of jail logs, court documents and criminal histories provided by confidential sources. The records show that the way authorities handle violators can vary significantly by county.
I am pleased that the LA Times is looking into how GPS tracking of sex offenders is working (or not working) in California these days. But I am disappointed that this article, which is quick to present a few ugly examples of bad criminals committing more crimes because of the failings of GPS, does not even try to explore whether overall sex offender recidivism rates are down since GPS tracking got started in California.
Whether it is the innocent person wrongly convicted or the guilty pedophile wrongly freed, it is always going to be easy for reporters to find anecdotes to document a singular failing of any part of a massive criminal justice system. It is much harder to determine — and yet ultimately much more important for making sound reforms — whether and how any particular part of a massive criminal justice system is doing more harm than good and thus needs to be drastically reformed or just tweaked.
February 25, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Friday, January 25, 2013
Important reminder that sentencing reform does not always complete offenders' need for helpThis notable new local article, headlined "Newly released California 'three-strikers' face new challenges," provides an intriguing report on the new problems facing certain offenders even after they receive the benefits of sentencing reform. Here are excerpts:
In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state's tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison "gate money" and the clothes on their backs.
These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation. The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of "strikers" alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law -- as well as the inmates themselves.
"I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing," said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.
Experts say California voters didn't have this situation in mind when they approved Proposition 36 in November by an overwhelming margin. Under the new law, judges cannot impose a life sentence on most repeat offenders who commit minor crimes. But the law also allows about 3,000 inmates whose last strike was a minor crime to petition for early release or shorter sentences -- as long as a judge finds they don't pose a serious risk to public safety.
Because of the way the state's complex sentencing laws work, many of those strikers have already been locked up longer than their newly calculated terms and usual period of parole, leaving many to fend for themselves without supervision or assistance once they are released.
So far, none of three dozen or so strikers who have been resentenced since November or with the help of the Three Strikes Project before the election has been rearrested. But some say it's only a matter of time. "It's pretty clear if you release people early without any supervision, there's an increased ability of them to re-offend," said Mike Reynolds, a Fresno man who helped draft the Three Strikes Law after his daughter was slain in 1992 by two repeat offenders. "It's a very, very dangerous policy."
Supporters of the revised three strikes policy are concerned that a notable uptick in crime -- even minor crimes by strikers -- will make the new law look like an ill-advised failure.
To reduce the risk, the same Stanford University Law School instructors who co-wrote Proposition 36 are now organizing a statewide effort to create re-entry plans for strikers using a combination of public and private services. They're planning to meet with operators of homeless shelters and innovative transitional programs from around the state, like San Francisco's Delancey Street Foundation, one of the country's leading residential self-help organizations for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless people and others who have hit bottom.
"We want these people to succeed," said Michael Romano, director of Stanford's Three Strikes Project. "We don't want them committing crimes and creating more victims." Proponents say the main reason they didn't foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly -- after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36....
Three-strikers face greater re-entry challenges than normal inmates, said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford law professor. About 38 percent receive some level of mental health treatment in prison, compared with 22 percent of the general population.
Romano and his group are hoping to turn to the same donors who funded Proposition 36 for help in creating a statewide re-entry program. A lot rides on the strikers' success. If they do well -- with the help of people like liberal billionaire George Soros, who donated heavily to Proposition 36 -- advocates could use their success to advance the cause of prison reform. If they fail, it could weaken the national effort to reduce mass incarceration.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Notable new research exploring connections between incarceration and mental health
Via The Crime Report, I just learned that the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has two notable new research articles concerning links between incarceration and psychiatric disorders. (Having just recently seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I recommend, I am tempted to call these articles companion pieces to that intriguing movie in which criminal justice realities play a more important role than football.) Here are links to the articles, along with their abstracts:
Jason Schnittker, Michael Massoglia, & Christopher Uggen, "Out and Down: Incarceration and Psychiatric Disorders":
Psychiatric disorders are unusually prevalent among current and former inmates, but it is not known what this relationship reflects. A putative causal relationship is contaminated by assorted influences, including childhood disadvantage, the early onset of most disorders, and the criminalization of substance use. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (N = 5692), we examine the relationship between incarceration and psychiatric disorders after statistically adjusting for multidimensional influences.
The results indicate that (1) some of the most common disorders found among former inmates emerge in childhood and adolescence and therefore predate incarceration; (2) the relationships between incarceration and disorders are smaller for current disorders than lifetime disorders, suggesting that the relationship between incarceration and disorders dissipates over time; and (3) early substance disorders anticipate later incarceration and other psychiatric disorders simultaneously, indicating selection. Yet the results also reveal robust and long-lasting relationships between incarceration and certain disorders, which are not inconsequential for being particular. Specifically, incarceration is related to subsequent mood disorders, related to feeling “down,” including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. These disorders, in turn, are strongly related to disability, more strongly than substance abuse disorders and impulse control disorders. Although often neglected as a health consequence of incarceration, mood disorders might explain some of the additional disability former inmates experience following release, elevating their relevance for those interested in prisoner reintegration.
Kristin Turney, Christopher Wildeman, & Jason Schnittker "As Fathers and Felons: Explaining the Effects of Current and Recent Incarceration on Major Depression":
Dramatic increases in the American imprisonment rate since the mid-1970s have important implications for the life chances of minority men with low educational attainment, including for their health. Although a large literature has considered the collateral consequences of incarceration for a variety of outcomes, studies concerned with health have several limitations: Most focus exclusively on physical health; those concerned with mental health only consider current incarceration or previous incarceration, but never both; some are cross-sectional; many fail to consider mechanisms; and virtually all neglect the role of family processes, thereby overlooking the social roles current and former prisoners inhabit.
In this article, we use stress process theory to extend this research by first considering the association between incarceration and major depression and then considering potential mechanisms that explain this association. Results from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3,107) show current and recent incarceration are substantially associated with the risk of major depression, suggesting both immediate and short-term implications. In addition, consistent with stress proliferation theory, the results show the well-known consequences of incarceration for socioeconomic status and family functioning partly explain these associations, suggesting the link between incarceration and depression depends heavily on the consequences of incarceration for economic and social reintegration, not only the direct psychological consequences of confinement.
Friday, November 09, 2012
New Vera Institute report looks at performance funding for criminal justice reformAs detailed in this helpful post by Alison Shames, headlined "Performance Incentive Funding Focus of New Vera Report," the Vera Institute of Justice has just released a terrific new research report on a notable new structure for developing criminal justice reform and helping to ensure a cost-effective criminal justice system. Here is an explanation of the report (along with a link to the full report and an executive summary and additional resources):
The idea that our tax dollars should be directed towards programs that deliver positive outcomes to the community is neither novel nor radical — but there are some interesting and innovative “pay for success” strategies for achieving this. Social impact bonds, which are being piloted in the United Kingdom, New York City, and Massachusetts, are perhaps among the best known of these. In the field of criminal justice, performance incentive funding (PIF) is another promising approach being tried in the United States.
PIF programs encourage local jurisdictions to supervise more offenders in the community and achieve better outcomes, namely lower recidivism and fewer prison commitments. They are premised on the idea that if the supervision agency or locality succeeds in sending fewer low-level offenders to prison — thereby causing the state to incur fewer costs—some portion of the state savings should be shared with the agency or locality. By delivering fewer prison commitments, agencies or localities receive a financial reward, which is reinvested into evidence-based supervision programs.
A new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections — Performance Incentive Funding: Aligning Fiscal and Operational Responsibility to Produce More Safety at Less Cost — details how PIF programs can lead to better offender outcomes while reducing overall corrections costs. It presents the findings of a summit held in September 2011, which was convened by Vera, the Pew Center on the States, and Metropolis Strategies, to discuss the key challenges and tasks that states must address to develop and implement a PIF program.
Achieving positive outcomes, such as reduced recidivism and revocations and safer and stronger communities, is a goal that tax payers, policymakers, and criminal justice professionals can all agree on. By emphasizing the use of evidence-based practices, reporting on outcomes, and paying for success, PIF programs can help states reduce their corrections costs, strengthen their community supervision programs, and build safer neighborhoods.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
California appeals court upholds probation condition prohibiting use of medical marijuanaThis local article, headlined "Antioch man cannot use medical marijuana while on probation for pot sales, court rules," reports on an interesting ruling from a California intermediate appellate court. Here are the details:
A state appeals court ruled in San Francisco on Monday that trial judges can ban the use of medical marijuana in some cases as a condition of probation for people convicted of possessing the drug for sale.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a sentence in which Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Leslie Landau last year prohibited Daniel Leal, 28, of Antioch, from using medical marijuana during his three years of probation.
Leal was sentenced to the probation term as well as to nine months in county jail after being convicted of possessing marijuana for sale in two incidents in Antioch in 2008 and 2009 and carrying a concealed, loaded gun in the first incident. Leal, who has completed his jail sentence, appealed the probation condition barring him from using medical marijuana.
He argued the ban violated his right to use the substance under the state's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows patients with a doctor's approval to use marijuana for medical purposes. Leal, who had approval for marijuana treatment for high blood pressure, contended the probation condition wasn't related to his crimes and that there could have been a way to limit his use of medical marijuana without prohibiting it entirely.
But Justice Anthony Kline, writing for the appeals panel, said the ban on use of the substance was justified by "abundant evidence of need to rehabilitate Leal and protect the public."...
Kline wrote in Monday's decision that trial judges setting probation conditions must balance the need to protect the public with California residents' right to use medical marijuana. He said there could be cases in which a ban would not be justified if a defendant posed little threat to society and had proved a compelling need for marijuana to alleviate pain.
But the evidence in Leal's case didn't show an overriding medical need and did show "both rehabilitative and public protection value in interfering with Leal's medical use of marijuana while on probation," Kline wrote.
Leal's lawyer in the appeal, Donald Lipmanson of Sebastopol, said no decision has been made on whether to ask the California Supreme Court to review the case. Lipmanson said the decision was consistent with other state appeals court rulings on the issue, but said the panel's purpose in issuing the detailed 22-page opinion may have been "to send a very clear message that if you end up being convicted of possessing marijuana for sale, don't expect to be able to continue using medical marijuana."
The full opinion in California v. Leal, No. A131366 (Cal. 1st App. Oct. 29, 2012), is available at this link.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Ninth Circuit finds "fundamental right of to familial association" made special sex offender SR conditions "substantively unreasonable"A lengthy opinion from the Ninth Circuit today in US V. Wolf Child, No. 11-30241 (9th Cir. Oct. 23, 2012) (available here), should be of interest to anyone who has ever been concerning about the application of broad supervised release conditions. Here is how the panel opinion gets started:
Timothy Eric Wolf Child, a Native American, appeals a special condition of supervised release imposed by the district court after he pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse. The special condition, condition 9, prohibited Wolf Child from residing with or being in the company of any child under the age of 18, including his own daughters, and from socializing with or dating anybody with children under the age of 18, including his fiancée, in both cases unless he had prior written approval from his probation officer. The district court imposed the special condition without first making any specific findings regarding the necessity of restricting Wolf Child’s ability to have contact with his children and his fiancée. It did so on the basis of a record devoid of evidence supporting the need for such a restriction with respect to his intimate family members. We hold that the fundamental right to familial association, implicated by the parts of the special condition prohibiting Wolf Child from residing with or being in the company of his own daughters and socializing with his fiancée, is a “particularly significant liberty interest.” The district court was therefore required to follow an enhanced procedural requirement to make special findings on the record supported by evidence in the record, that the condition is necessary for deterrence, protection of the public, or rehabilitation, and that it involves no greater deprivation of liberty than reasonably necessary. Because the district court made no such findings regarding the imposition of the special condition, and it conducted no individualized examination of Wolf Child’s relationship with the affected family members, it committed procedural error with regard to these specific individuals. Moreover, because of the absence of any evidence in the record that would support the limitations on the fundamental liberty interests at issue, we hold that special condition 9, as applied to restrict Wolf Child’s ability to reside or socialize with his own children and with his fiancée is substantively unreasonable.
In addition, we conclude that special condition 9 is overbroad both by virtue of prohibiting Wolf Child from being in the company of any child under the age of 18 under any circumstances and by similarly prohibiting him from dating or socializing with anybody who has children under the age of 18, regardless of the circumstances, without prior approval of his probation officer. On remand, if the district court deems it appropriate to adopt a special condition limiting Wolf Child’s contact with children under the age of 18 (other than his own children) and associating with parents of children under the age of 18 (other than his fiancée) it must ensure that any such condition is reasonably necessary to accomplish the statutory goals of supervised release and that it infringes on his particularly significant liberty interests no more than reasonably necessary to accomplish those goals.
October 23, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Friday, October 12, 2012
NPR piece spotlights Ohio success with sentencing reforms and reducing recidivismI am very pleased to see that my state is getting well-deserved national attention for its recent success with sentencing and corrections reforms. Specifically, NPR's Talk of the Nation had this lengthy segment earlier this week on Ohio's reforms under the heading "Programs Keep Inmates From Returning To Prison." Here is how the NPR site sets up the discussion:
States pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to house each inmate. Some states are rethinking the way they spend that money. In Ohio, sentencing reform, increased support for former inmates, and rehabilitation and education programs for current prisoners have helped keep prisoners from returning.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Well, ... at least these parolees had a zero recidivism rate (unless they're zombies)The title of this post is the snarky reaction I had to this new local article from Tennessee, which is headlined "Parolees monitored, but no longer alive." Here is how the (unintentionally amusing) article begins:
Tennessee’s Board of Probation and Parole reported in the past year that dozens of dead offenders were alive and being monitored, according to a state comptroller report released on Monday. The state-funded office, which at the time of the audit had an $86 million budget, claimed that at least 82 dead people on probation or parole were still alive, a mistake the comptroller attributed to “inadequate supervision.”
“It’s obviously a problem,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “With that many dead people supposedly being supervised, it makes you wonder how many live people were also not being supervised.”
In one instance, a criminal who died in October 2011 was reported to be “bedridden at home.” In another case, an officer documented contacting a parolee who, the comptroller’s office learned, had been dead for 19 years.
The comptroller’s office declined to identify individual officers, and neither agency was able to say whether anyone had been disciplined for reporting errors. But Comptroller Justin Wilson echoed Kelsey’s concern that the audit raised questions both about the expenditure of public funds and the supervision of parolees statewide. “If parole officers are supervising dead people, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars and makes us wonder about the supervision of parolees living in our communities,” Wilson said.
The state’s Board of Probation and Parole, which keeps track of about 60,000 offenders, has long faced heavy caseloads and contended with high employee turnover. It also has been widely reported that the agency’s resources have been stretched so thin that its ability to monitor some of the state’s most dangerous criminals has been compromised.
Since the economic downturn, the agency has rarely met its supervision standards. Though more probation officers have been added to the ranks, a high turnover rate has made proper supervision nearly impossible, according to previous reporting by The Tennessean. Most officers are tasked with overseeing about 100 offenders.
Deborah Loveless, the comptroller’s assistant director for state audit, would not comment on whether the errors were made by one individual or by many at the agency. How much the blunders have cost taxpayers is unknown, according to Loveless. The audit does suggest, however, that “tax payer resources were used in an ungrateful way,” she said.
In a written response included in the audit, the board admitted that reporting dead people as alive was a problem. All staff will be trained to better detect deceased offenders by the end of the year, the agency said. On Wednesday, the comptroller’s office will present the audit to state legislators, at which point they will recommend whether to continue to fund the agency, or relocate the probation and parole program under a different government arm.
The 83-page audit referenced in this article is available at this link. And while I am being snarky, I have to comment on two lines I love from this article.
First, what a great response from Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole: "staff will be trained to better detect deceased offenders by the end of the year." I am so glad to hear there will be extensive staff training to make sure workers can better detect which offender are truly deceased. After all, we would not want staff to be fooled by offenders who were only pretending to be dead. Even worse, if some seemingly deceased offenders are in fact undead (i.e., are zombies), they may need to be placed under more intensive supervisions. Based on what I have seen in various movies, it seems that zombies have remarkably high violent crime rates.
Second, I adore this double-speak phrasing from the state auditors: by monitoring the deceased, "tax payer resources were used in an ungrateful way." To begin, I question whether this is statement accurate because I suspect that living parolees are in fact grateful that they are being monitored less because dead persons are still being monitored. Moreover, what a polite was to lament government waste: taxpayers should not be angry about massive criminal justice systems misusing our money, we should just not be "grateful" about waste of the scarce state resources devoted to keeping society safe.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Report from Council of State Governments indicates reduced recidivism in many statesI always enjoy reporting good crime and punishment news; I am thus pleased to highlight this press release from The Council of State Governments Justice Center’s National Reentry Resource Center discussing findings that "a number of states [are] reporting significant reductions in recidivism." The press release provides a summary of this policy brief, including these highlights:
The states profiled in the report show significant declines in their three-year recidivism rates based on data tracking individuals released from prison in 2005 and 2007. Texas and Ohio reported reductions of 11 percent, while the Kansas rate fell by 15 percent and Michigan’s rate dropped by 18 percent. Incorporating data through 2010 (and in some cases, through 2011), the report provides the most recent multi-state information available on recidivism....
US Senator Rob Portman (R, OH), a co-author of the Second Chance Act, applauded the states, including Ohio, for their accomplishments. “Second Chance Act programs, in collaboration with faith-based and community organizations and local reentry coalitions, have a proven record of helping inmates turn their lives around, and I applaud their continued good efforts to reduce recidivism. Encouraging people released from prison to become productive members of society not only strengthens communities, but also reduces the burden on taxpayers who shoulder the costs associated with incarceration.”
The brief, “States Report ReducAons in Recidivism,” highlights strategies that leaders in several states credit with helping drive down recidivism:
• In Ohio, state policymakers standardized the use of a validated risk assessment instrument to focus limited treatment and supervision resources on those individuals assessed at the highest risk for reoffending.
• In Kansas, state leaders awarded performance-based grants to community corrections agencies, partnered with local communities where recidivism rates were highest to improve post-release supervision, and enhanced housing and workforce development services to beaer meet the needs of people coming out of prison.
• Michigan officials invested heavily in the state’s Prisoner Reentry Program, prioritizing funding for housing, employment, and other transition support services in order to provide the most effective community-based programming for released individuals.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Third Circuit requires more rigorous approach to supervised release conditionsThe Third Circuit handed down a notable opinion today in US v. Murray, No. 11-3196 (3d Cir. Sept. 5, 2012) (available here), which effectively reviews a good bit of doctrine and procedure concerning the imposition of supervised release conditions. Here is how the opinion gets started:
This opinion struck me as blog-worthy because litigation over supervised release conditions for sex offenders is sure to keep increasing in the years ahead, and because the Third Circuit panel was forced to remand largely because the district court was so ready to impose additional onerous conditions on the defendant without even bothering to make the necessary findings. For these reasons, I cannot help but wonder if this Murray ruling represents only the tip of a problematic supervised release iceberg.
In 2004 in the District of New Jersey, Charles Murray pleaded guilty to traveling interstate to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Later that same year, in a separate case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. For these offenses, he was sentenced to an aggregate term of 95 months' imprisonment, to be followed by concurrent three-year terms of supervised release. Both of Murray's sentencing judges imposed upon him various special conditions of supervised release that, for example, require him to register as a sex offender and to submit to unannounced searches of his computer.
After Murray was released from prison in July 2010, he moved to the Western District of Pennsylvania. That District thus assumed jurisdiction over him for the remainder of his term of supervised release. Though Murray had not violated his existing supervised release conditions, the Probation Office sought to modify them to bring them in line with the conditions of release that are typically used in the Western District. Some of the Probation Office's proposed conditions were duplicative of those already mandated by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and District of New Jersey, but others were new. The District Court granted the Probation Office's request and imposed several new, more stringent conditions on Murray. Murray now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we will remand this case to the District Court.
Sunday, September 02, 2012
New York claims success with prison shock campsAs detailed in this AP article, New York is citing to evidence of success at reducing its offender recidivism rate through the use of shock incarceration programs. Here are the details:
As this article highlights, slowly but surely we are learning more about what kinds of correctional programs are more likely to reduce recidivism among various offender populations.
New York corrections officials say they have graduated 45,000 inmates from military-style boot camp over the past 25 years and data shows that most don't commit new crimes. Established around the country in the 1980s as an alternative to regular prison, the so-called "shock camps" got mixed reviews and several states dropped them. New York kept three camps going with a model they say is effective and cutting down the rate of repeat offenses and saving money.
Only prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes who volunteer and sign contracts go to the camps. Many drop out or are kicked out before completing the six months of mandatory physical training, manual labor, education and drug counseling, scrutinized by drill instructors. The prize for completing the course is a shortened sentence....
Some observers say the lower recidivism is predictable because it's a self-selected and motivated group of inmates who prove capable of finishing the program. They also note that the lower recidivism, far lower in the first year, starts rising after that. "Our view is that it's somewhat mixed, but there are definitely some positive elements to it," said Jack Beck, who directs the visiting project for the Correctional Association of New York. "The regimentation is so different from what these individuals will experience on the outside, it's very hard to translate those experiences into something when they return home."
New York has 1,087 inmates at the shock camps, Moriah in the Adirondacks, Lakeview in western New York's Chautauqua County, and Monterey in the Finger Lakes region. All are minimum-security without fences and set in rural areas. Before the state shut the Summit camp southwest of Albany in 2011 to save money, there were 1,284 offenders in the shock program. The system has some 56,000 inmates in 60 correctional facilities, down from a peak 71,600 in 1999.
Revisions in drug sentencing laws and diverting more inmates to treatment programs have reduced the available pool for shock programs. Initially intended for prisoners up to age 23, they have been opened to inmates up to age 50 with less than three years left on their sentences.
Corrections spokeswoman Linda Foglia said they estimate having saved $1.34 billion because of the shortened incarceration for 45,135 shock graduates, including 3,355 females, over the past 25 years. Meanwhile, New York data show 7 percent of those who completed the program from 2007 to 2009 returned to prison within one year, compared to 19.9 percent of all inmates released from state prison. Recidivism data after three years show a 26.4 percent return rate for those who completed shock in 2007, compared with 42 percent for all releases that year....
A 2003 National Institute of Justice research review said boot camps proliferated nationally starting in the late 1980s, with 75 adult programs by 1995. Five years later, one-third had closed and there was a 30 percent population drop in remaining state programs. While "almost universally successful improving inmates' attitudes and behavior during the course of the program," the review said those changes did not translate to reduced recidivism, with limited exceptions. Boot camps that lasted longer, like New York's six months, and offered more intensive treatment and post-release supervision, did better.
September 2, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Saturday, September 01, 2012
"Changes in Community Supervision Offer the Get into Jail Free Ticket"The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN by Paige Jann. Here is the abstract:
California traditionally had two types of community supervision, probation and parole. While probation generally consisted of a sentence given in lieu of prison with incarceration as a consequence for violating its terms, parole instead consisted of a term of supervision following an individual’s prison sentence. However, the recent passage of The Criminal Justice Realignment Act (AB 109) drastically changed the landscape of community supervision by shifting the responsibility of supervising certain offenders from the state to the county level. Companion legislation also amended California Penal Code section 1170(h) to include a new sentencing option called a split sentence, whereby a court can craft a sentence that combines both a period of local incarceration and mandatory supervision. Ultimately, Realignment legislation combined the oversight of parole, probation, and split sentencing all into one unified agency: county probation departments. A lingering question now remains as to whether each of these very different programs may suffer under such a unification.
This paper examines California’s scheme of felony sentencing and community supervision prior to Realignment, as well AB 109’s various changes to these areas. Further, this paper critically examines the idea of entrusting all community supervision to one department. These critiques suggest a resulting paradox where offenders may prefer harsher sentencing alternatives over probation because it is more difficult to graduate from the latter. Finally, this paper concludes that oversight of community supervision may be incapable of integration, and that each program may instead require individual attention. Realignment and its accompanying legislation have drastically transformed California’s criminal justice system. Examining the extent to which 1170(h) augments county probation departments’ responsibilities may reveal the potential struggles that lie ahead and offer guidance in further implementation of these changes.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Fascinating Eighth Amendment ruling by Kansas appeals court about (uniquely?) extreme sex offender sentence
I have been slow to note a remarkable Eighth Amendment opinion handed down late last week by a Kansas appellate court in State v. Proctor, No. 104,697 (Kan. Ct. App. July 6, 2012) (available here). (Hat tip to Eugene Volokh.) The lengthy opinion and its (limited?) import are hard to summarize, so I will quote in full the start of the opinion here:
In this case, the court must address the constitutionality of a sentence potentially subjecting Defendant Daniel Proctor to lifetime postrelease supervision and, in turn, to imprisonment for life without parole if he were later to commit any felony, including a property crime otherwise calling for probation. Proctor faces that prospect because he pled guilty to a sex offense — aggravated indecent solicitation of a child — for which he has received a permissible guideline sentence of probation. For Proctor, a man in his early 20′s, the statutory sentencing scheme could put him behind bars for 50 years if he were to shoplift a $1,000 ring or computer or to write a bad check for them. Given Proctor’s circumstances and the peculiarly harsh result that could be inflicted on him, the sentence violates the protections against cruel and unusual punishment contained in § 9 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The punishment may be considered grossly disproportionate in that context and incompatible with the general purposes of incarceration as a sanction in the criminal justice system. We, therefore, vacate the sentence imposed on Proctor to that extent and remand to the Saline County District Court for resentencing.
The governing statutes create the prospect of an exceptionally severe punishment — life in prison without parole is second only to a death sentence in its extremity — for persons convicted of designated sex offenses who then commit property crimes. For Proctor, the disparity between his criminal conduct and that punishment reflects an imbalance of a magnitude implicating constitutional protections. The Kansas sentencing statutes permit probation for both his underlying offense in this case and property crimes amounting to felonies. But the commission of those two offenses in that order may lead to life in prison with no prospect for release. Controlling authority from the United States Supreme Court and the Kansas Supreme Court construing the federal and state constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment cannot be reconciled with that result. The sentencing scheme exacts a punishment harsher than those for murder, kidnapping, and other crimes the Kansas Legislature has designated as more serious than Proctor’s. It also appears to be more severe than similar statutes applied to sex offenders in the vast majority of other states. Those are the ingredients of an unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment.
The analysis by this appellate panel to back up these conclusions is quite interesting and worth a close read by any and everyone interested in the development of modern Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Ohio's Republican legislature, prodded by Republican gov, enacts major felon reentry reforms
This local story from my own Columbus Dispatch, which is headlined "Bill signings include help for freed felons," effectively highlights not only that bipartisanship remains vibrant on some "smart" criminal justice reforms, but also that having Republicans in charge of a state's political branches may be essential to moving these reforms from good ideas to enacted legislation. Here is how the piece starts:
A bill that will reduce barriers to employment and education for felons when they leave prison was among the 13 pieces of legislation that Gov. John Kasich signed yesterday.
Deemed the “collateral sanctions” bill, Senate Bill 337 will make it easier for people getting out of prison to get jobs cutting hair, working construction, selling hearing aids and working as security guards. Judges will be able to award certificates to remove job barriers and protect employers from potential liability. Also, courts can order community service instead of fines or driver’s-license revocation for non-driving offenses, and child-support orders can be modified when inmates are in jail or have a felony record.
It was a truly bipartisan bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Shirley Smith of Cleveland and Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati — and championed by Kasich — that the House passed unanimously.
On issues key modern state criminal justices ranging from sentencing reform to collateral consequences to use of clemency powers, Ohio's Governor John Kasich has been, in my view, one of the most engaged and effective chief executives in the nation. (For this reason, I may now have to start rooting for Mitt Romney to pick Gov Kasich as his running mate, though I doubt he is on any realistic short lists.) And the Ohio General Assembly, perhaps because it is dominated by members of the same party as Governor Kasich and has a number of real thoughtful members on both sides of the aisle, merits great credit for not turning any of these issues into a political football to kick around seeking polling points.
Though sometimes I fear that praise from the ivory tower might hurt rather than help some politicians, I still must give a proud shout-out and hearty praise to Gov Kasich and the Ohio legislature. I hope they keep up the great work and keep trying to make sure my Ohio tax dollars are not wasted on unduly harsh and ineffective criminal laws and policies.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Local restrictions on sex offenders continue to grow and expand
This New York Times article, headlined "Public-Place Laws Tighten Rein on Sex Offenders," documents that we have still not yet reached a tipping point when it comes to post-sentencing restrictions on sex offenders. Here are excerpts:
Convicted sex offenders are barred from surfing at the famous pier in this Orange County city. In nearby Dana Point, they are prohibited from casting a fishing line in the harbor.
And if they wander into a public park in Mission Viejo, they could be shipped back to jail for six months, following the City Council’s vote this year to ban them from a host of places where children congregate. “We need to protect our kids,” the Orange County district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, had told the Mission Viejo City Council. “The danger is very real.”
Orange County finds itself at the enter of a new wave of laws restricting the movement of sex offenders. The county government and a dozen cities here have banned sex offenders from even setting foot in public parks, on beaches and at harbors, rendering almost half the parks in Orange County closed to them. Ten more cities are considering similar legislation.
And Orange County is far from alone. In recent years, communities around the country have gone beyond regulating where sex offenders can live and begun banning them outright from a growing list of public places.
From North Carolina to Washington State, communities have designated swimming pools, parks and school bus stops as “child safety zones,” off limits to some sex offenders. They are barred from libraries in half a dozen Massachusetts cities, and from all public facilities in tiny Huachuca City, Ariz. “Child safety zones are being passed more and more at the city and county level,” said Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s becoming more and more restrictive. They’re not only limiting where sex offenders can live, but they’re limiting their movement as well.”
The proliferation of such restrictions reflects the continued concerns of parents and lawmakers about potential recidivism among sex offenders. But it has also increasingly raised questions about their effectiveness, as well as their fairness.
Opponents have dismissed “child safety zones” as unenforceable, saying they are designed to make politicians look tough on crime and drive sex offenders from the area, not make children safer. “These are cheap laws that can be passed to make people feel good,” said Charles P. Ewing, author of “Justice Perverted: Sex Offense Law, Psychology, and Public Policy.”...
Greg Bird was convicted of indecent exposure in 2001. Since then, Mr. Bird said, he has gotten married and turned his life around. But he now pauses at the idea of having children of his own, because he knows he could not even take them to the park to play catch. “Sometimes I wonder, is there any compassion?” Mr. Bird said. “I know I don’t deserve compassion. I broke the law. I get that. But these laws set people up to fail more.”
In some cities, law enforcement has done very little to enforce child safety zones. In Albuquerque, where some sex offenders have been banned from libraries since 2008, with some exceptions, the police have never even issued a trespass notice, a prerequisite to an arrest. Thus far, the parks bans here have led to just three convictions across the entire county.
Still, Mr. Rackauckas said he was satisfied that the laws were serving as a deterrent. “We’re not going to know how many kids were not molested or groomed for later sexual contact as a result of this law,” he said....
[O]nce one community has enacted “child safety zones,” they often spread quickly to nearby towns, as municipal governments fear becoming local havens for sex offenders. In Lake County, Fla., this year, county commissioners — surrounded by communities with tough laws on sex offenders — responded with some of the most restrictive measures anywhere, including a law prohibiting sex offenders from going within 300 feet of a park, school or playground.
Joe Carchio, a city councilman in Huntington Beach, where a park ban went into effect in December, said he felt bad for lower-level offenders whose convictions many years ago prevent them from taking their children to Little League games. Still, he wishes he could have made the restrictions even broader. “In a lot of ways, it is a feel-good law; it makes people feel safe,” Mr. Carchio said. “You make choices in this world, and I guess the choice that individual made is one that is going to follow him for the rest of his life.”