Tuesday, November 19, 2013
What message does six-month prison sentence in high-profile NJ animal cruelty case really send?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy local report about a high-profile New Jersey state sentencing, headlined "Brick couple sentenced to 6 months in jail for abusing dog, Sammy." Here are excerpts:
The township couple that admitted to abusing a 17-year-old dog named Sammy was sentenced to six months in jail on Monday. Brick residents Keith Morgan, 56, and Shauna Ewing Morgan, 43, stood in silence next to each other and between their respective attorneys while the sentence was read. The sentence also included a $1,000 fine, $13,500 in restitution, 30 days community service and the couple is prohibited from future ownership of an animal.
“This is what we wanted, this is what was deserved and it was justified,” Monmouth County SPCA Chief Victor “Buddy” Amato said. “This judge did the right thing.” A packed courtroom erupted in cheers when Judge Robert LePore announced jail time for the couple.
“Unless these individuals are imprisoned for their depraved, cruel and heinous conduct, such acts of animal cruelty will continue worldwide,” LePore said. “The lack of care provided to Sammy was inexcusable.” LePore said the sentence he issued was to deter future animal cruelty. “This court believes that a message needs to be sent not just to these defendants, but to all of society that animal cruelty is a national and global problem and must be addressed and deterred,” LePore said.
The charges stem from a March incident when Keith Morgan brought the Cocker Spaniel to the Associated Humane Society in Tinton Falls, claiming he found Sammy in a garbage bag on the side of the road, Amato said. Keith Morgan gave an interview to a local television station after he turned the dog in, claiming he found the dog. That interview was played in court during the sentencing. However, officials said they later learned that the couple had owned the dog for at least nine years.
Sammy was then brought to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital for treatment because he was malnourished and his fur was covered in urine and matted together in knots to the extent that the dog could not stand up, Amato said. He was released to a foster family in April. Days after Sammy was turned in, authorities learned through an anonymous tip that the Morgans had a second dog, named Ady, at their home. Amato said that because Ady had been groomed before they found her, authorities they were unable to determine if she was neglected. The 3-year-old Cocker Spaniel was voluntarily surrendered to the SPCA and eventually placed in a new home.
Before LePore issued the sentencing, both of the Morgans made a statement to the judge, apologizing. “I was in a bad time in my life. I was depressed … because my wife left,” Keith Morgan said. “I apologize, I didn’t mean for this to happen.” He and his attorney Kevin Sheehy told the judge that Shauna Morgan wasn’t at the home for several months before the incident because the two were separated. Keith Morgan had also been diagnosed with a kidney disease and at one point was suicidal, Sheehy said.
Shauna Morgan’s attorney, Marc Schram, told the judge the couple did not have any contact during their separation, and found the conditions at the home when she returned. “I should have foreseen that Sammy wouldn’t have been safe with my husband, but I didn’t know he was going to get so sick. … If I had foreseen it I would have taken Sammy with me,” she said through tears. “I’m sorry it turned out the way it did.”...
Attorney Steven Zabarsky prosecuted the case and he said he was happy with the outcome. “On behalf of the state, I’ve very satisfied,” Zarbarsky said.
Sammy’s case garnered international attention and a Facebook page was created in support of the dog. An online petition calling on prosecutors to ask for the maximum sentence for the Brick couple received nearly 33,000 signatures.
The Morgans were arraigned on May 20, with more than 250 people packing the Brick municipal courtroom to watch. A line stretched out the door of the courthouse with supporters wearing t-shirts and holding signs demanding justice. During a July 15 hearing, which also drew approximately 150 Sammy supporters, a Staten Island, N.Y. woman yelled out “Go kill yourself” and was escorted out of the courtroom.
Ultimately the Morgans reached a plea agreement on Aug. 19, and Amato called the outcome a “win.” Keith Morgan pleaded guilty to one count of abuse of animal cruelty and filing a false report with law enforcement, while Shauna Ewing Morgan admitted to two counts of animal cruelty.
The eight-month case also stirred debates surrounding animal abuse. In May, N.J. 101.5 radio hosts Dennis Malloy, Judi Franco and Ray Rossi were under fire after they brought the case up on their respective shows. Social media posts claimed Malloy and Franco said animal rights activists needed to get their priorities straight, while Rossi allegedly said “untrue” and “hurtful” statements on air about one of the administrators of the Sammy the Cocker Spaniel Facebook page....
Capt. Richard Yocum, who is president of the state SPCA, said he was proud of Detective William Hyer and Deputy Chief Larry Donato, who investigated the case and of the ruling that was made. “The stand that they [the court] have taken against animal cruelty being unacceptable tonight was admirable,” Yocum said. “Sammy does have a loving home, he’s doing much, much better and he’s living out his life in a very good place.”
After the sentence, both of the Morgans’ attorneys said they would be filing an appeal Tuesday morning. The judge granted a motion for a stay to allow the Morgans to remain free for the appeal process.
Because I am an animal lover and have been a passionate pet owner for my whole life, I can understand how many people can and will get very worked up about animal abuse. Still, I cannot help but wonder how much NJ taxpayer money was spent in this prosecution, and I especially wonder if many other abused animals might have been better served if those resources had instead been directed to an animal shelter or to a public service campaign.
Effective use of state resources aside, the message I take away from this sentencing story is the telling (and I think unfortunate) reality that many folks view incarceration as the only serious and meaningful punishment even when it seems likely that creative alternative punishments could possibly be more significant and effective. This kind of case, in which the defendants do not appear to present any real risk to public safety, seems to me to be the perfect setting for developing thoughtful shaming sanctions and lengthy (animal-servicing) community service as a punishment that could and should keep an on-going spotlight on the problems of animal cruelty and better enable other to better understand how to avoid hurting animals in the first instance.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Cyber-criminal/hacktivist gets max federal sentence of 10 years after guilty plea
As reported in this Rolling Stone piece, headlined "Cyber-Activist Jeremy Hammond Sentenced to 10 Years In Prison: The hacker, who pleaded guilty in May, is given the maximum sentence by a federal judge," a high-profile on-line criminal got a big-time sentence in federal court late last week. Here are the details and some context:
Cyber-activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison ... by Judge Loretta A. Preska in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan for hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor. When released, Hammond will be placed under supervised control, the terms of which include a prohibition on encryption or attempting to anonymize his identity online.
Hammond has shown a "total lack of respect for the law," Judge Preska said in her ruling, citing Hammond's criminal record — which includes a felony conviction for hacking from when he was 19 — and what she called "unrepentant recidivism." There is a "desperate need to promote respect for the law," she said, as well as a "need for adequate public deterrence."
As Hammond was led into the courtroom, he looked over the roughly 100 supporters who had shown up, smiled, and said, "What's up, everybody?" Prior to the verdict, he read from a prepared statement and said it was time for him to step away from hacking as a form of activism, but recognized that tactic's continuing importance. "Those in power do not want the truth exposed," Hammond said from the podium, wearing black prison garb. He later stated that the injustices he has fought against "cannot be cured by reform, but by civil disobedience and direct action." He spoke out against capitalism and a wide range of other social ills, including mass incarceration and crackdowns on protest movements.
The Stratfor hack exposed previously unknown corporate spying on activists and organizers, including PETA and the Yes Men, and was largely constructed by the FBI using an informant named Hector Monsegur, better known by his online alias Sabu. Co-defendants in the U.K. were previously sentenced to relatively lighter terms. Citing Hammond's record, Judge Preska said "there will not be any unwarranted sentencing disparity" between her ruling and the U.K. court's decision....
Hammond's defense team repeatedly stressed that their client was motivated by charitable intentions, a fact they said was reflected in his off-line life as well. Hammond has previously volunteered at Chicago soup kitchens, and has tutored fellow inmates in GED training during his incarceration.
Rosemary Nidiry, speaking for the prosecution, painted a picture of a malicious criminal motivated by a desire to create "maximum mayhem," a phrase Hammond used in a chat log to describe what he hoped would come from the Stratfor hack. Thousands of private credit card numbers were released as a result of the Stratfor hack, which the government argued served no public good.
Sarah Kunstler, a defense attorney for Hammond, takes issue with both the prosecution and judge's emphasis on the phrase "maximum mayhem" to the exclusion of Hammond's broader philosophy shows an incomplete picture. "Political change can be disruptive and destructive," Kunstler says. "That those words exclude political action is inaccurate."
Many supporters see Hammond's case as part of a broader trend of the government seeking what they say are disproportionately long sentences for acts that are better understood as civil disobedience than rampant criminality.
"Sentenced to a Slow Death"
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times editorial discussing this week's noteworthy new ACLU report on the thousands of persons serving LWOP sentences for non-violent offenses in the United States (first discussed here). Here are excerpts:
If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.
And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.
As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car....
As in the rest of the penal system, the racial disparity is vast: in the federal courts, blacks are 20 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crimes. The report estimates that the cost of imprisoning just these 3,278 people for life instead of a more proportionate length of time is $1.78 billion....
Several states are reforming sentencing laws to curb the mass incarceration binge. And Congress is considering at least two bipartisan bills that would partly restore to judges the power to issue appropriate sentences, unbound by mandatory minimums. These are positive steps, but they do not go far enough. As the report recommends, federal and state legislators should ban sentences of life without parole for nonviolent crimes, both for those already serving these sentences and in future cases. President Obama and state governors should also use executive clemency to commute existing sentences. Just one-fifth of all countries allow a sentence of life without parole, and most of those reserve it for murder or repeated violent crimes. If the United States is to call itself a civilized nation, it must end this cruel and ineffective practice.
Recent related posts:
- New ACLU report spotlights thousands of nonviolent prisoners serving LWOP terms
- New York Times op-ed asks "Serving Life for This?"
Friday, November 15, 2013
Is AG Eric Holder going to stay on the job until he truly reforms American criminal justice?
The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new Washington Post article headlined "Reforming justice system is personal goal for Eric Holder Jr." Here are excerpts from the piece:
As the Justice Department seeks new ways to reduce the burgeoning U.S. prison population, its success is likely to depend on community programs such as the one in this small city in America’s heartland.
In the past 11 years, federal prosecutors here have authorized substance abuse treatment and other assistance for more than 100 low-level offenders as an alternative to prison sentences. Eighty-seven have successfully completed the program and, in the process, saved the federal government more than $6 million by sparing it the cost of incarceration....
Justice officials see the program in Peoria as a model for other communities — and central to the criminal justice reforms that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is moving to implement. In August, at an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco, Holder announced that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences. He has also introduced policies to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates, to find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals, and to improve reentry programs to curb repeat offenses.
The announcements have heralded some of the most significant criminal justice policy shifts from the department in years. For Holder — who has said that as a U.S. attorney and judge he saw neighborhoods destroyed by both illegal drugs and the tough-on-crime legislation that has disproportionately affected black men — the issue has been personal.
“Day after day, I watched lines of young people, most often young men of color, stream through my courtroom,” Holder told ex-offenders Thursday during a visit to a St. Louis courthouse, one of a string of stops he is making to promote his reform agenda. “I learned how drug abuse, crime and incarceration can trap people in a destructive cycle. A cycle that weakens communities, tears families apart and destroys individual lives.”...Many of the department’s criminal justice reforms have bipartisan support, and Republican governors in some of the most conservative states have led the way on prison reform. Congress also has shown a renewed interest in reducing the nation’s prison population, including the introduction of a bill this week that would reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which funds grants for programs that support probation, parole and reentry programs across the country.
“Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former prosecutor and one of the bills sponsors, said in a statement.
Efforts to reduce the prison population have drawn criticism from some lawmakers, who are skeptical that new policies will reduce crime. “I am skeptical,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said at a a hearing last week. “Reducing prison sentences will bring prisoners out on the street sooner. The deterrent effect of imprisonment would be reduced. Many so-called nonviolent drug offenders have violent records. Some of these released offenders will commit additional crimes.”...
In a Philadelphia courtroom earlier this month, the attorney general watched more than a dozen drug offenders in a “reentry” program report to a judge to discuss their personal and work situations. Officials there said the program, which provides parenting classes, vocational training and job opportunities, has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs because fewer ex-offenders are being sent back to prison. The national revocation rate for ex-offenders who are not in such programs is 47 percent; the rate among participants in the seven-year-old Philadelphia program is about 20 percent.
During his stops Thursday, Holder met with judges and pretrial service officers and watched as a district court judge encouraged ex-offenders to overcome their drug addictions and stay out of prison. He spoke emotionally to a group about how his nephew struggled to overcome drug addiction.
Inside a federal courthouse in St. Louis, he watched a ceremony in which ex-offenders graduated from an intensive recovery program called EARN (Expanding Addicts’ Recovery Network). “I look at you all and I see myself,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood in New York City where people like you would have been my friends. We would have gone to school together. We would have tried to learn about girls together. We would have played basketball together. So I can’t help but feel mindful of the fact that, although I’m here in my capacity as attorney general of the United States, a few of the people I grew up with, good people like you, ended up taking different paths.”
“Some of them didn’t catch the same breaks,” the nation’s top law enforcement official said. “Some had to deal with drug issues. . . . I know that everyone makes mistakes — everyone. Including me. And that’s why I wanted to be here today to tell you in person how proud I am that each of you has decided not to let your mistakes define you and not to make excuses, but to make the most of the opportunities that you’ve been given.”
Right after President Obama's re-election, as noted in this post from last November, AG Holder was talking about staying on as AG for only "about a year" into this second Presidential term. But that year has now passed, and I have heard very little new buzz about AG Holder moving on. And, if he is truly committed to engineering significant and lasting criminal justice reform, I think he may need (at least) the next three years to really have a chance to get this done.
November 15, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
"Reducing crime by reducing incarceration"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Times op-ed authored by David Cole and Marc Mauer. Here are excerpts:
The United States remains the world leader in imprisonment, with an incarceration rate five times higher than that of many of our European allies. It wasn’t always this way. From 1925 through 1975, our incarceration rate was about 160 per 100,000 persons. Today it is nearly 700 per 100,000. It rose consistently for more than three decades, largely as a result of changes in policy, not crime rates. These policy changes, under the rubric of the “get tough” movement, were designed to send more people to prison and to keep them there longer. As the prison population has expanded, however, whatever impact incarceration may have had on crime has confronted the law of diminishing returns. Meanwhile, the corrections system costs us $80 billion a year.
In response to these concerns, recent years have seen significant reforms across the country. States from Texas to California to New York have reduced mandatory minimum sentences, softened “three-strikes” laws, or established drug-offender diversion programs. The number of people incarcerated in state prisons nationwide has dropped for three years in a row. California, New York and New Jersey have each reduced their prison populations by about 20 percent in the past decade — with no increases in crime.
In an era of heightened partisan politics, reform is a rare bipartisan issue. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee don’t often see eye to eye, but they have all advocated measures to reduce mandatory minimums. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes free-market law reforms in the states, has identified reducing prison overcrowding as one of its priorities. Regardless of one’s politics, no one can be proud of the fact that the world’s wealthiest society locks up more of its citizens per capita than any other nation.
Most of the reforms thus far have focused on nonviolent offenders, especially drug-law violators — and for good reason. The large-scale incarceration of low-level drug offenders has had little impact on the drug trade; street-corner sellers and couriers are easily replaced. Incarceration imposes substantial costs on society at large, though, and on the life chances and families of those locked up.
If we are to tackle the incarceration rate effectively, we need to focus not only on those who receive the shortest sentences, but also on those who receive the longest sentences — lifers. Even as incarceration rates have begun to fall, life sentences have increased. One in nine prisoners in the United States is now serving a life sentence, including 10,000 serving life for a nonviolent offense (often the “third strike” under a three-strikes law). Nearly a third of the life sentences are imposed with no possibility of parole.
While most of these individuals have committed serious offenses, the increased reliance on life sentences is counterproductive. Criminal offenses tend to drop with age. As offenders grow older, their incarceration is increasingly less likely to have any incapacitative value. Nor is there any evidence that life sentences have greater deterrent effect. Studies find that it is the certainty of punishment, not its severity, that is most correlated with deterrence. Yet many states have adopted a “life means life” policy with no consideration of parole. Such sentences effectively write off the offender, rejecting the possibility of redemption altogether....
A key factor in the prison expansion of recent decades has been that offenders sentenced to prison are serving much longer sentences. American sentences today are frequently two to three times the length for similar offenses in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and other industrialized nations. Sentencing reform has begun with the low-hanging fruit of mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses, but if it is to succeed, we must reduce the length of criminal sentences generally.
Recent related post:
- New ACLU report spotlights thousands of nonviolent prisoners serving LWOP terms
- New York Times op-ed asks "Serving Life for This?"
Thursday, November 14, 2013
New York Times op-ed asks "Serving Life for This?"
I am pleased to see that columnist Nicholas Kristoff used his op-ed space today in the New York Times to promote the ACLU's new report on the thousands of persons serving LWOP sentences for non-violent offenses in the United States (discussed here). This piece is headlined "Serving Life For This?," and here are excerpts:
At a time when America has been slashing preschool programs, we have also been spending vast sums to incarcerate thousands of nonviolent offenders in life sentences without any possibility of parole. These cases underscore that our mass incarceration experiment has resulted in monstrous injustice and waste — a waste of tax dollars and of human lives.
Judges and prison officials are rebelling at the injustice of our justice system. Here’s what Judge James R. Spencer, a federal district judge, said when sentencing a former F.B.I. informant to life without parole for selling crack cocaine to support his own addiction: “A life sentence for what you have done in this case is ridiculous; it is a travesty.” But federal law on mandatory minimums left Judge Spencer no leeway. He added: “I don’t agree with it, either. And I want the world and the record to be clear on that. This is just silly.”
Here are some other nonviolent offenders serving life sentences without the possibility of parole:
• Ricky Minor, a meth addict and father of three, was found with 1.2 grams of meth in his home, along with over-the-counter decongestants that can be used to manufacture meth. He was initially charged under Florida law and says he faced a two-and-a-half-year sentence. Later indicted under federal law, he pleaded guilty because his public defender said that otherwise the prosecutors would also pursue his wife, leaving no one to raise their children. Minor had several prior nonviolent offenses, for which he had never served time, and these required Judge Clyde Roger Vinson to sentence him to life without parole. Judge Vinson said that the sentence “far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate.”
• Dicky Joe Jackson was a trucker whose 2-year-old son, Cole, needed a bone-marrow transplant to save his life. The family raised $50,000 through community fund-raisers, not nearly enough for the transplant, and Jackson tried to earn the difference by carrying meth in his truck. He has now been in prison for the last 17 years; when he lost his last appeal, he divorced his wife of 19 years so that she could start over in her life. The federal prosecutor in the case acknowledged: “I saw no indication that Mr. Jackson was violent, that he was any sort of large-scale narcotics trafficker, or that he committed his crimes for any reason other than to get money to care for his gravely ill child.”
• Danielle Metz became pregnant at 17 and later married an abusive man who was also a drug dealer. To placate him, she says, she sometimes helped him by fetching cocaine or collecting money from Western Union. After one clash in which he punched her in the face, she took the kids and left him. Two months later, she was indicted. She says that she was prosecuted primarily to induce her to testify against her husband, but that she wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have useful information to trade for a reduced sentence. She has now spent more than 20 years in prison.
Those examples come from a devastating new report, “A Living Death,” by the American Civil Liberties Union. It identified more than 3,200 such nonviolent offenders sentenced to die behind bars. Four out of five are black or Hispanic. Virtually all are poor. Many had dismal legal counsel. Some were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles or very young adults....
I write often about human rights abuses abroad. But when we take young, nonviolent offenders — some of them never arrested before — and sentence them to die in prison, it’s time for Americans who care about injustice to gaze in the mirror.
Recent related post:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
New ACLU report spotlights thousands of nonviolent prisoners serving LWOP terms
The ACLU has released a huge new report giving focused attention to the thousands of prisoners serving life without parole sentences in the United States for nonviolent drug and property crimes. This massive new report, which can be accessed at this link, is titled "A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses." This related webpage highlights some specific defendants and cases with this introduction:
For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them are Black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars.
Here is an excerpt from the 200+ page report's executive summary:
Using data obtained from the Bureau of Prisons and state Departments of Corrections, the ACLU calculates that as of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent drug and property crimes in the federal system and in nine states that provided such statistics (there may well be more such prisoners in other states). About 79 percent of these 3,278 prisoners are serving LWOP for nonviolent drug crimes. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses nationwide are in the federal system; of these, 96 percent are serving LWOP for drug crimes. More than 18 percent of federal prisoners surveyed by the ACLU are serving LWOP for their first offenses. Of the states that sentence nonviolent offenders to LWOP, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Oklahoma have the highest numbers of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent crimes, largely due to three-strikes and other kinds of habitual offender laws that mandate an LWOP sentence for the commission of a nonviolent crime. The overwhelming majority (83.4 percent) of the LWOP sentences for nonviolent crimes surveyed by the ACLU were mandatory. In these cases, the sentencing judges had no choice in sentencing due to laws requiring mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment, habitual offender laws, statutory penalty enhancements, or other sentencing rules that mandated LWOP. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have immense power over defendants’ fates: whether or not to charge a defendant with a sentencing enhancement triggering an LWOP sentence is within their discretion. In case after case reviewed by the ACLU, the sentencing judge said on the record that he or she opposed the mandatory LWOP sentence as too severe but had no discretion to take individual circumstances into account or override the prosecutor’s charging decision.
As striking as they are, the numbers documented in this report underrepresent the true number of people who will die in prison after being convicted of a nonviolent crime in this country. The thousands of people noted above do not include the substantial number of prisoners who will die behind bars after being convicted of a crime classified as “violent” (such as a conviction for assault after a bar fight), nor do the numbers include “de facto” LWOP sentences that exceed the convicted person’s natural lifespan, such as a sentence of 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Although less-violent and de facto LWOP cases fall outside of the scope of this report, they remain a troubling manifestation of extreme sentencing policies in this country.
November 13, 2013 in Examples of "over-punishment", Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 07, 2013
"Free at Last? Judicial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Crystal Yang now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were created to reduce unwarranted sentencing disparities among similar defendants. This paper explores the impact of increased judicial discretion on racial disparities in sentencing after the Guidelines were struck down in United States v. Booker (2005). Using data on the universe of federal defendants, I find that black defendants are sentenced to almost two months more in prison compared to their white counterparts after Booker, a 4% increase in average sentence length. To identify the sources of racial disparities, I construct a dataset linking judges to over 400,000 defendants. Exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges, I find that racial disparities are greater among judges appointed after Booker, suggesting acculturation to the Guidelines by judges with experience sentencing under mandatory regime. Prosecutors also respond to increased judicial discretion by charging black defendants with longer mandatory minimums.
I am always interested in sophisticated analyses of the post-Booker sentencing system, so I am looking forward to finding time to review this article closely. But, as with lots of "disparity" sentencing scholarship, I worry that this article is among those spending lots of time worrying about and trying to figure out whose sentences may be longer after Booker rather than worrying about and trying to figure out if all sentence remain way too long in the federal sentencing system.
November 7, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Senate Judiciary hearing focused on federal prisons and "Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism"This motning, Tuesday November 6, 2013 at 10am, as detailed at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary titled "Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons & Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism." Here is the official agenda/hearing list:
- Charles E. Samuels, Jr.,Director,
- John E. Wetzel, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
- Representative John Tilley, Chair, Judiciary Committee, Kentucky House of Representatives
- Nancy G. La Vigne, Ph.D., Director, Justice Policy Center, The Urban Institute
- Matt DeLisi, Ph.D., Professor and Coordinator, Criminal Justice Studies, Iowa State University
- Dr. Jeffrey Sedgwick, Managing Partner and Co-Founder Keswick Advisors
I am expecting and hoping that there will be written testimony from some or all of these witnesses posted via the Senate website within the few hours.
Here at The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen sets out "5 Questions for Federal Prisons Chief When He Comes to Capitol Hill"
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
"Looking for Answers on Overcrowded Prisons"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article coming from Philadelphia. The piece is primarily about federal corrections and re-entry issues, as well as on-going work of AG Eric Holder and the Department of Justice. Here are excerpts:
Some ex-offenders here report to federal court twice a month so that judges can gauge their progress, from drug testing and parenting classes to education and job training. It's an attempt to address a stubborn problem: nearly 25 percent of offenders released into federal supervision were rearrested for a new offense within five years, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Another 14 percent violate the conditions of their supervision.
Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a look at the Philadelphia program Tuesday to call attention to an overburdened prison system and the high incidence of repeat criminals, the first of three such visits to promote innovative crime prevention initiatives. Holder will visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
"The common thread of these programs is that it is very difficult to get out of a cycle of crime without proper rehabilitation," Holder said in an interview. "We should not be surprised" at high repeat offender rates "when we see people with education deficits, social deficits and we warehouse them and then just put them back into the same environment that they left."...
Seven years ago, federal judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania created a federal re-entry court that focuses on ex-criminal offenders with a significant risk of returning to a life of crime. The goal of the program is to place participants on a path to employment rather than a cycle of crime. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year. It aims to cut Philadelphia's high violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
Of 186 participants in the Supervision to Aid Re-Entry, or STAR, initiative over the past seven years, 142 have successfully completed the program or remain in it. In a new change designed to keep ex-offenders on the right track, STAR will provide some participants with federal housing assistance under a federal voucher program.
"For every dollar we invest in programs like these we are going to save much more" in prison costs, an outcome that will enable spending limited law-enforcement resources on other priorities, Holder said.
While Philadelphia's program deals with high-risk offenders, the program in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney's office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars....
Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and almost half of the prisoners are serving time for drug-related crimes. Many of them have substance use disorders. In addition, some 9 million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation," Holder told the American Bar Association in August. "To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and re-entry."
New Urban Institute report recommends policies to reduce federal prison growthAs detailed via this webpage, The Urban Institute has today released this notable new report titled "Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System." Here is how the webpage summarizes the report's content and coverage:
Here is the conclusion of this report's executive summary, which provides some details about its specific recommended reforms:
The federal prison population has risen dramatically over the past few decades, as more people are sentenced to prison and for longer terms. The result? Dangerously overcrowded facilities and an increasing expense to taxpayers. In a new Urban Institute report, the authors project the population and cost savings impact of a variety of strategies designed to reduce the inmate population without compromising public safety. They find that the most effective approach is a combination of strategies, including early release for current prisoners and reducing the length of stay for future offenders, particularly those convicted of drug trafficking.
[T]o yield a meaningful impact on population and costs, a mix of reforms to sentencing, prosecution, and early release policies are required. The most effective way to reduce overcrowding is to lower mandatory minimums for drugs, which, alone, would reduce overcrowding to the lowest it has been in decades. Add two more options — retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders already in BOP custody and providing a broader earned time credit for program participation — and the BOP could save $3 billion. Updating the formula for good time credits and providing early release for certain nonviolent older inmates would lead to an additional 5,000 immediate releases, while lowering the truth-in-sentencing requirement for new BOP admissions who exhibit exemplary behavior while in custody would further reduce the future prison population. Even with a mix of reforms, federal prisons may continue to be overcrowded. But a smart combination of policies will save taxpayers billions, make prisons less dangerous, and improve the quality and reach of programs designed to keep inmates from offending again.
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Should we worry early parole might cut 750 years off sex offender's prison term?The question in the title of this post is my tongue-in-check response to this local West Virginia sentencing story sent my way by a helpful reader. The piece is headlined "County man sentenced to 250 -- 1,000 years," and here are the details:
A Marion County man was sentenced to 250 -- 1,000 years in prison Friday for 10 counts of sexual abuse and 10 counts of sexual assault, all involving a minor. Matthew Monroe Cottingham, 28, of Fairmont, was sentenced by Marion Circuit Judge David R. Janes.
Cottingham was sentenced to 25 to 100 years for each of 10 counts of sexual assault on a minor and 10 to 25 years for each of 10 counts of sexual assault by a parent, guardian or custodian. He will serve the sentences for sexual assault consecutively and the sentences for sexual abuse concurrently, said Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Wilson....
“The sentences of 25-100 years are indeterminate,” Wilson said. “He would have to do 25 years on each count before he’d be eligible for parole.”
Cottingham had been first arrested in late July 2012 by Fairmont police. According to criminal complaints, he forcibly had sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl. The girl allegedly told her mother the next day, and statements by the victim and physical evidence observed at Fairmont General Hospital were reportedly consistent with the allegations....
Child Protective Services continued to investigate the incident since the initial arrest. A second child, a 9-year-old girl, alleged that Cottingham had perpetrated “several sexual assaults ... dating back years prior to his arrest to CPS officials.”
Friday, November 01, 2013
"Did a murderer and a sex offender just save Oklahoma $20 million?"The title of this post is the headline of this recent Washington Post report, which struck my fancy on a Friday morning. Here is the explanation:
Bobby Cleveland, an Oklahoma state representative, had some questions about the amount of money being spent at Joseph Harp Correctional Center. As chairman of the state House’s Public Safety Committee, state prisons fall under his jurisdiction. But on a tour of the prison facility, he and two fellow representatives found something they didn’t expect: a software program written by two inmates that could save the prison, and maybe the state, a lot of money.
The program tracks inmates as they proceed through food lines, to make sure they don’t go through the lines twice, Cleveland said in an interview. It can help the prison track how popular a particular meal is, so purchasers know how much food to buy in the future. And it can track tools an inmate checks out to perform their jobs. “It’s a pretty neat program. It’s all done by the direction of the supervisor, one of these guys who’s kind of, what do you call it, thinking outside the box,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland said the program, if implemented statewide, could save Oklahoma up to $20 million a year. It can also track incoming shipments of food and supplies — and catch discrepancies, like the one that raised red flags with Cleveland and his colleagues, state Reps. Scott Martin (R) and Jason Murphey (R). The software showed that Sysco, which supplies food to the state prison system, was charging the state different prices for the same food item sent to two different facilities....
The program came to lawmakers’ attention when Cleveland took a tour of the facility without the prison warden around. He brought his colleagues to a subsequent visit to hear about the program. “It does kind of expose the waste at all the other facilities. It was just one of those genuine, lightning-strikes things,” Murphey said....
The supervisor, William Weldon, worked with two technologically-savvy inmates to develop the program. Prisoners each have a bar code they can scan, which then shows prison officials who has eaten a meal, or checked out a spatula before a shift in the kitchen, or borrowed a pair of gloves to scrub dishes after a meal. Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said prison officials at Joseph Harp have used the software for about two years.
The software could even help save the state from lawsuits. Cleveland said several prisoners have sued over being denied special meals, whether for medical or religious reasons. When an inmate’s bar code is scanned, prison officials would be alerted that they should receive a diabetic meal, or a Halal or Kosher meal....
The Department of Corrections wouldn’t identify the inmates who created the program, beyond saying that one of them is a sex offender and one is serving a sentence for murder. They may not be the most savory characters, but the program appears to be working. “They built a system that could save the state millions of dollars,” Cleveland said. “I want to get the state using this thing.”
Thursday, October 31, 2013
"Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States"
The title of this post is the title of a notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice available at this link. Here is a synopsis of the report's coverage via the Vera website:
Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries — grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community — also differ markedly from the U.S.
In February 2013 — as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera — delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates. Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the considerably different approaches to sentencing and corrections these leaders observed in Europe and the impact this exposure has had (and continues to have) on the policy debate and practices in their home states. It also explores some of the project’s practical implications for reform efforts throughout the United States to reduce incarceration and improve conditions of confinement while maintaining public safety.
October 31, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
New report (from small government groups) urges Louisiana to reform its toughest sentencing lawsAs reported in this AP article, headlined "New study calls on La. to change sentencing laws," a notable group of libertarian-leaning organizations has produced a big report urging the state with the highest rate of incarceration to significantly scale back its most extreme sentencing laws. Here are the basics:
The full 36-page report, titled "Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: An Argument for Reforming Louisiana’s Determinate Sentencing Laws," is available at this link. The reports executive summary can be accessed here, and it gets started this way:
Louisiana should shrink its prison population and costs by repealing minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes, said a study released Tuesday by several right-leaning policy organizations. The groups suggest that Louisiana could maintain public safety while also reducing a per capita incarceration rate that is the highest in the nation, by making changes to the habitual offender law and locking up fewer people for nonviolent offenses.
The Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization based in California, made the suggestions along with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a Louisiana-based conservative organization, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "Harsh, unfair sentences are putting too many Louisianans in jail for far too long, and at a terrible cost to taxpayers and society," Julian Morris, vice president of Reason Foundation and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Nonviolent offenders account for the majority of the state's inmates, the report says. By shrinking its prison population, the study says Louisiana could invest more money in rehabilitation programs for those who remain in jail.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration said it has asked the state's sentencing commission to review the report's recommendations. Any changes would need approval from state lawmakers.
Over the past several decades, Louisiana legislators have passed a number of determinate sentencing laws aimed at reducing crime and incapacitating certain types of offenders. Because these laws have been disproportionately applied to nonviolent crimes, nonviolent offenders now account for the majority of inmates and admissions to prison in the state. This has produced a number of unfortunate consequences, such as an increase in the state’s prison population from 21,007 in 1992 to 39,709 in 2011 and a $315 million increase in correction expenditures during the same time period, from $442.3 million (in 2011 dollars) in 1992 to $757.4 million in 2011. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that the laws have done anything to reduce Louisiana’s violent crime rate, which remains considerably above both the national average and the rates in its neighboring states. Today, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, with 868 of every 100,000 of its citizens in prison.
Louisiana’s citizens could benefit considerably from changes to the way in which convicted criminals are sentenced. As things stand, nonviolent offenders who pose little or no threat to society are routinely sentenced to long terms in prison with no opportunity for parole, probation or suspension of sentence. In most cases, this is a direct result of the state’s determinate sentencing laws. These prisoners consume disproportionate amounts of Louisiana’s scarce correctional resources, which could be better utilized to ensure that violent criminals are more effectively kept behind bars.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
"Gimme Shelter: Mass Incarceration and the Criminology of the Housing Boom"The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new short paper by the always intriguing Jonathan Simon from a book intriguingly titled "Architecture and Justice." Here is the abstract:
Mostly when we think about the intersection of architecture and justice we think of the connections between buildings, like courts, prisons, jails, and the ideas, ideologies, and policies that shape both the scale and aspirations of these buildings. Here I want to propose a different kind of connection. Just as buildings belong to a ‘built environment’, and policies emerge not directly from interest groups but out of broader ‘political rationalities’. We can learn something by reflecting on how these influence each other.
Do lead exposure realities continue to best explain modern crime-rate realities?Every time I see reports new reports about crime rates in the United States or in certain regions, I cannot avoid continuing to think about the interesting research connecting crime rates and childhood exposure to lead. Against that backdrop, I was pleased that Rick Nevin, a Senior Economist at ICF International, sent me this lengthy e-mail discussing his research and writing on this topic:
I want to thank you for yourJanuary blog about the Mother Jones article discussing my lead and crime research. I also want to let you know that I have several posts at www.ricknevin.com that update my earlier analyses, and are closely related to recent posts:Your October 28 post about the NYT editorial on "Why Prisons Are Shrinking" is related to my paper on The Plummeting USA Incarceration Rate showing that the recent incarceration rate decline reflects much steeper declines for younger adults (ages 18-30) born across years of declining lead exposure, partly offset by rising incarceration rates for older adults born across years of pandemic lead poisoning.
Your October post on NYC murder rates is directly related to my post on Why is the Murder Rate Lower in New York City?You had two posts in October about 2012 FBI and BJS data showing relatively stable crime rates related to my recent Lead Poisoning and Juvenile Crime Update paper showing that juvenile arrest rates are falling to record lows since 1980, reflecting ongoing declines in lead exposure over the 1990s, while arrest rates since 1980 have increased for older adults. This paper also updates my crime trend graphs for Britain and Canada showing the predictive power of earlier lead exposure trends, with the same relationship between lead exposure and crime trends and the same shifts in arrest rates by age observed in the USA. I also have a recent paper showing how lead exposure trends can explain Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends by Race and Gender
I also have a post on Lead Exposure and Murder in Latin America and a longer paper called The Answer is Lead Poisoning that updates and integrates findings from several of my related peer-reviewed studies. All of the questions at The Questions link to this same paper.
I know the Kevin Drum story in Mother Jones seemed new and speculative to most readers, but there is actually a large body of research now supporting this relationship, and I have links to many peer-reviewed studies in my posted papers. I don’t know of any other criminology theory that can explain both the rise and fall of crime in so many places -- and different trends by age, race, and gender -- or any theory that has so accurately predicted ongoing crime trends in so many different places for so many years. I hope you will consider bringing some of this information to a broader audience through your blog, and I would welcome your use of any text or graphs from my posted papers.
Some recent related posts:
- Should we thank unleaded gas and the EPA for the great modern crime decline?
- Effective Washington Post commentary talks up great (and still puzzling) crime decline
- Uh-oh: BJS reporting significant spike up in violent and property crime for 2012
- FBI releases 2012 crime statistics showing stability in relatively low crime rates
- New National Academy of Sciences effort seeking to unpack the crime decline
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Detailing new state reform efforts to ensure kids get treated as kids by criminal justice systemToday's New York Times has this big story about modern juvenile justice reforms under the headline "A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons." The piece is mostly focused on a recent reform in Colorado, but here is an excerpt discussing the national trends:
In a reversal of the tough-on-crime legislation that swept the nation in the late 1980s and ’90s, nearly half of the states have now enacted one or more laws that nudge more young offenders into the juvenile justice system, divert them from being automatically tried as adults and keep them from being placed in adult jails and prisons.
Sarah Brown, a director of the criminal justice program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the shift stems from a decline in juvenile crime, concerns about the costs of adult prisons and a growing understanding of adolescent brain development showing that the young have a greater potential for rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court has increasingly taken neurological research into account on juvenile justice issues — most recently in a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, which barred mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for those who committed their crimes before they turned 18. Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in the case cited adolescents’ “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change.”
Eleven states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, have passed laws that keep most young offenders out of adult jails and prisons. Eight states, including California, Missouri and Washington, passed laws that alter mandatory minimum sentencing for young offenders charged as adults. Four — Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Mississippi — have broadened the powers of their juvenile courts, enabling them to take cases of juveniles who would have automatically been tried as adults. And 12 states, including Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Utah, have adjusted the laws governing the transfer of young offenders into the adult system in ways that make it more likely that they will be tried as juveniles.
Many of these bills have passed with bipartisan support in states both Republican and Democratic and with the testimony of the young who are affected and their families, said Liz Ryan, the president of Campaign for Youth Justice, which recently issued a report on the shifts.
October 29, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Monday, October 28, 2013
NY Times editorial (poorly) urges better assessments of "Why Prisons Are Shrinking"Today's New York Times has this new editorial headlined "Why Prisons Are Shrinking" making these important points:
The mandatory sentencing movement that swept the United States beginning in the 1970s drove the state prison population up from less than 200,000 to about 1.4 million today and made corrections the second-fastest-growing state expense after Medicaid. But bipartisan sentencing reforms in a growing number of states are starting to reverse that trend — causing the prison population to decline by about 3.8 percent since 2009.
Underlying the state reforms is a relatively new and more sophisticated way of using data about the offender — including criminal history, drug abuse and instances of antisocial behavior — to assess the likelihood of that individual’s committing a new crime. And by examining arrest, sentencing and probation data, the states can revise policies that might be driving people back into prison unnecessarily....
Despite the merits of a risk-assessment approach, a report issued earlier this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that many states are still flying blind, because they don’t have the resources to gather data. Moreover, the study noted, handling high-risk and low-risk offenders in the same way is a big mistake, because “low risk individuals have an increased likelihood of recidivism when they are oversupervised or receive treatment or services in the same programs as medium- and high-risk individuals.”
There are proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies. More states need to adopt these approaches.
I am fully supportive of the ideas and themes in this editorial, but a lot more could and should be said at this dynamic moment of sentencing and corrections reform. For example, in the wake of the lastest crime data indicating a spike up in national violent and property crimes (discussed here), this editorial should be stressing the need and importance of a careful state-by-state examination of where crime is going up and whether new (and still emerging) data on changes imprisonment rates and crimes rates provide critical new lessons concerning what we can now conclude about the connections between crime and punishment.
In addition, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) ought to be urging sustained examination and analysis of a handful of big jurisdictions in which stories of crime and punishment have been especially dynamic over the last few years. Specifically, I strongly believe that the big states of California, Illinois, New York and Texas, all of which have diverse urban and rural regions and all of which have changes its sentencing laws in diverse ways in recent years, should be a special focal point for sorting through and fairly assessing "proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies."
Last but not least, federal sentencing realities and reform discussions — as well as the interesting "new politics" of criminal justce reform — should be brought into these discussions ASAP. The federal prison population continues to grow despite the reforms ushered in by the Fair Sentencing Act, and it is now unclear whether or when any additional proposed federal sentencing reforms will get through Congress and if any of these reforms will effectively incorporate "proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies." More broadly, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) should be urging Congress — and especially those eager to support state rights and state-level solutions — to help provide states with the "the resources to gather data" and build on successful reform efforts. (For example, I have long believe the feds ought to be conducting a kind of "race to the top" federal funding competition to motivate the better development and analysis of state-level crime and punishment data.)
Just a few of many recent related posts:
- Uh-oh: BJS reporting significant spike up in violent and property crime for 2012
- FBI releases 2012 crime statistics showing stability in relatively low crime rates
- New National Academy of Sciences effort seeking to unpack the crime decline
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- Alabama rolls out new presumptive sentencing guidelines (which prosecutors mostly oppose)
- Guess which state has the highest rate of incarceration of black men in the entire US?
- "Three myths about conservatives and criminal justice" ... which are really stories about (slowly) changing modern realities
- Federal sentencing reform: an unlikely Senatorial love story and a Booker double-dose?
- Could significant federal criminal justice reforms become more likely if the GOP wins Senate in 2014?
October 28, 2013 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Michigan Senate passes (prospective-only) Miller fix proposalAs reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan juvenile lifers: Senate moves to fix unconstitutional law, not offer resentencing," the Michigan legislature is finally making some progress on reforming unconstitutional aspects of its juvenile sentencing scheme. Here are the details:
The Michigan Senate on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would allow some minors convicted of murder to avoid life in prison -- unless they are already behind bars and have exhausted appeal.
Senate Bills 318 and 319, now headed to the House for consideration, would update Michigan laws that currently allow mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crime....
Under the Senate proposal, prosecutors could still seek life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors. But judges, after considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances, would be given new discretion to impose a prison term of between 25 and 60 years. With good behavior, an individual convicted at 15 could have the chance to request a parole hearing and make their case for release when they reached 40.
The bills would not apply retroactively, meaning that "juvenile lifers" already behind bars and out of appeals would not have the opportunity for parole. Michigan is home to more than 360 juvenile lifers, the second-highest total in the nation.
State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, proposed an amendment that would have added retroactivity to the legislation, but sponsoring Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, argued against it, and the amendment was shot down. "The bill brings us into compliance with the Supreme court ruling," said Jones. "It does not go into retroactivity because they didn't address that."
Advocates say that juvenile lifers deserve the same opportunities for release as future convicts, but victim families have argued that opening old cases would also open old wounds.
The Supreme Court did not address the retroactivity question, and state and federal courts have offered different answers. U.S. District Court Judge John Corbet O'Meara has said Michigan juvenile lifers deserve a "fair and meaningful possibility of parole," but he has not yet determined what that possibility should look like.
State Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, has introduced House measures that include retroactivity for juvenile lifers. But those bills, the subjects of an emotional hearing in August and opposition from Attorney General Bill Schuette, have not advanced out of committee.
October 24, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack