Monday, March 24, 2014
AG Eric Holder announces new rules for federal halfway houses
Via this official press release, I see that Attorney General Eric Holder is continuing his effort to reshape the policies and practices of the federal criminal justice system, this time through new policies and programming for federal halfway houses. The title and subtitle of the press release itself provides a summary of this latest development: "In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior to Release; New Rules Also Instruct Federal Halfway Houses to Provide Transportation Assistance, Cell Phone Access in Order to Help Inmates Seek Employment Opportunities."
Here is more from the start of the press release:
In a new step to further the Justice Department’s efforts towards enhancing reentry among formerly incarcerated individuals, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will impose new requirements on federal halfway houses that help inmates transition back into society. Under the proposed new requirements, these halfway houses will have to provide a specialized form of treatment to prisoners, including those with mental health and substance abuse issues. For the first time, halfway houses will also have to provide greater assistance to inmates who are pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to be used by inmates and providing funds for transportation. The new requirements also expand access to electronic monitoring equipment, such as GPS-equipped ankle bracelets, to allow more inmates to utilize home confinement as a reentry method.
Holder announced the changes in a video message posted on the Department’s website. The BOP’s new policies have the potential to be far-reaching. To ease their transition, those exiting prison typically spend the last few months of their sentence in either a federal halfway house — known as a residential reentry center (RRC) — or under home confinement, or a combination of the two. These community-based programs provide much needed assistance to returning citizens in finding employment and housing, facilitating connections with service providers, reestablishing ties to family and friends, and more.
Last year alone, more than 30,000 federal inmates passed through a halfway house. Among the most significant changes Holder announced is the requirement for standardized Cognitive Behavioral Programming (CBP) to be offered at all federal halfway houses. This treatment will address behavior that places formerly incarcerated individuals at higher risk of recidivism. As part of this treatment requirement, BOP is setting guidelines for instructor qualifications, class size and length, and training for all staff at the halfway houses.
Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
"Prisoners Could Serve '1,000 Year Sentences In 8.5 Hours' In The Future"
The title of this post is the headline of this awesome new article that an awesome former student sent my way. Here are excerpts:
Future biotechnology could be used to trick a prisoner's mind into thinking they have served a 1,000 year sentence, a group of scientists have claimed. Philosopher Rebecca Roache is in charge of a team of scholars focused upon the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. Dr Roache claims the prison sentence of serious criminals could be made worse by extending their lives.
Speaking to Aeon magazine, Dr Roache said drugs could be developed to distort prisoners' minds into thinking time was passing more slowly. "There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence," she said.
A second scenario would be to upload human minds to computers to speed up the rate at which the mind works, she wrote on her blog. "If the speed-up were a factor of a million, a millennium of thinking would be accomplished in eight and a half hours... Uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours. This would, obviously, be much cheaper for the taxpayer than extending criminals’ lifespans to enable them to serve 1,000 years in real time."...
"To me, these questions about technology are interesting because they force us to rethink the truisms we currently hold about punishment. When we ask ourselves whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone, we have to make sure it’s not just the unfamiliarity that spooks us," Dr Roache said.
"Is it really OK to lock someone up for the best part of the only life they will ever have, or might it be more humane to tinker with their brains and set them free? When we ask that question, the goal isn’t simply to imagine a bunch of futuristic punishments — the goal is to look at today’s punishments through the lens of the future."
Monday, February 24, 2014
NY Times debates "Visiting Prisoners, Without Visiting Prison"
The Room for Debate section of the New York Times has has this new set of notable commentaries discussing the virtues and possible vices of using video feeds for prison visition. Here is the section's set up:
The attorney general, Eric Holder, recently instructed federal prisons to treat same-sex marriages the same as opposite-sex marriages, including visitation rights for spouses. But at many prisons, family visitation is increasingly difficult and even phone calls are exorbitantly expensive.
Some prisons have instituted “video visitation” as a solution. Does that help or create new problems?
Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:
"A Service to Families and Children" by Doug Phillips, Sheriff's Office, Polk County, Iowa
"Symptoms of a Broken Prison System" by Glenn E. Martin, JustLeadershipUSA
"More Video Visits, and More In-Person Time" by Margaret diZerega, Vera Institute of Justice
"Potential for Exploitation, or Innovation" by Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative
"Lessons From Military Families" by Barbara Van Dahlen, licensed clinical psychologist
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Audit reveals serious problems with GPS tracking of serious offenders in LA
As reported in this new Los Angeles Times article, headlined "One in four GPS devices on criminals in L.A. County were faulty," the potential technical problems posed by technocorrections have been revealed by a new local audit. Here is how the story starts:
One in every four GPS devices used to track serious criminals released in Los Angeles County has proved to be faulty, according to a probation department audit — allowing violent felons to roam undetected for days or, in some cases, weeks.
The problems included batteries that wouldn't hold a charge and defective electronics that generated excessive false alarms. One felon, county officials said, had to have his GPS monitor replaced 11 times over a year; for five days during the 45-day audit period, his whereabouts were unknown. "If you have faulty technology, that is a recipe for disaster," said Reaver Bingham, deputy chief of the probation department.
The findings come as nearly every California county is moving forward with some form of electronic monitoring to contend with tens of thousands of state inmates being released to their supervision, an offshoot of the effort to reduce prison overcrowding.
In Kern County, officials have instituted a "virtual jail." San Bernardino County is using GPS to track its homeless felons. And Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has floated a proposal to move 3,000 inmates out of crowded jails and into the community wearing GPS trackers.
Mandated for use on high-risk sex offenders by the 2006 passage of "Jessica's Law," GPS tracking has been promoted by both lawmakers and state law enforcement officials as a safe and cost-effective alternative to prison or jail. However, a Los Angeles Times investigation earlier this year showed that California corrections officials were aware of massive problems in their program. Citing an "imminent danger" to the public, the state in 2011 quietly replaced the GPS monitors on half of the paroled sex offenders.
Los Angeles County began leaning on electronic monitoring heavily in 2011, putting GPS devices on its highest-risk felons — repeat sex offenders, domestic abusers who had violated restraining orders and violent gang members.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Intermediate NJ appeals panel upholds broad restriction on released sex offender access to social media websites
As reported in this AP article, headlined "NJ panel: Sex offenders can be kept off Facebook," a New Jersey appeals panel handed down today a notable opinion upholding a notable restriction on computer use by released sex offenders. Here are the basics:
A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that paroled sex offenders can be barred from Facebook, LinkedIn and other online social networks.
Two offenders had gone to court to challenge that restriction, saying social networks are important ways to get news, information and find business opportunities.
However, a three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the offenders can be kept off social network as a term of parole. The judges said they agree that the networks are an important facet of modern life, but said there is a good reason to keep convicted sex offenders off them. "The provisions are legitimately aimed at restricting such offenders from participating in unwholesome interactive discussions on the Internet with children or strangers who might fall prey to their potential recidivist behavior," Judge Jack Sabatino said in his opinion. He noted that the parolees can still get news and buy products online.
The ruling referenced in this article is partially available at this link, and here are excerpts from the start of the opinion:
Appellants J.B., L.A., B.M., and W.M. are individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, have completed their respective prison terms, and are now being monitored by respondent New Jersey State Parole Board (the "Parole Board") as of fenders who are subject to either parole supervision for life ("PSL") or its statutory predecessor, community supervision for life ("CSL"). Represented by the same attorney, appellants challenge the constitutionality of certain terms of supervision the Parole Board has imposed upon them. Similar conditions have been imposed on other offenders subject to CSL or PSL, although appellants have not filed a class action.
The terms of supervision mainly being challenged in these related appeals are (1) the Parole Board's restrictions on appellants' access to social media or other comparable web sites on the Internet; and (2) the Parole Board's authority to compel them to submit to periodic polygraph examinations....
For the reasons that follow, we reject appellants' facial challenges to the Internet access restrictions, subject to their right to bring future "as-applied" challenges should they avail themselves of the Parole Board's procedures for requesting specific permission for more expanded Internet access and are then denied such permission.
I expect the defendants here may be eager to appeal this matter to the NJ Supreme Court and maybe even the US Supreme Court, especially since it appears that the internet use restrictions upheld here are set to last a lifetime. And though this case might not be the best vehicle, I suspect that SCOTUS will eventually have to consider what restrictions can be poperly place on internet access for released offenders.
November 26, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Friday, November 15, 2013
If concerned principally about saving lives and public safety, can one reasonably oppose mass use of safer-driving technologies?
The question in title of this post is prompted by this local news item from my own local paper headlined "More Ohioans die on road in 2012." Here are excerpts:
Traffic fatalities rose last year across the United States for the first time since 2005, and Ohio was a big reason why, according to federal data. More people died in car crashes in 37 states in 2012 than in 2011, and only Texas experienced a bigger jump than Ohio did, according to data released yesterday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration....
In all, 1,123 people died in Ohio wrecks last year — an increase of 106 from 2011. More than 70 percent of the increase was attributed to alcohol and impaired driving. Nationwide, 33,561 people were killed in car crashes in 2012, an increase of 1,082. Ohio’s crashes accounted for about 10 percent of the nationwide increase....
Ohio’s trend mirrors what much of the country experienced in 2012: a big jump in traffic fatalities early in the year. About 72 percent of the increase nationwide occurred during the first quarter of the year, and Ralston said Ohio actually experienced a drop in traffic deaths during the second half of 2012. Motorcycle deaths increased in the United States for the third consecutive year.
“I think too many times when we don’t hear about things or think things are going well, we get complacent about that,” MADD Ohio Executive Director Doug Scoles said. “The thing that’s frustrating with this is, impaired driving is completely preventable.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also announced yesterday that it would develop plans before the end of the year to encourage automakers to incorporate safety features in more vehicles. Those features include seatbelt interlocks that prevent vehicles from being driven before a seat belt is fastened, alcohol-detection systems and collision avoidance.
MADD Ohio wants the state legislature to require ignition interlocks for all people convicted of drunken driving, and it’s hopeful that the auto industry will take a role in adding the safety technology, Scoles said. “I think crackdown campaigns are effective, (but) they’re short-lived,” he said.
As regular readers know well (even if just from this post yesterday), I like to focus on traffic laws as a means to test whether and when citizens are really prepared to live up to oft-heard claims about the importance of public safety and saving innocent lives. And this local article (just like the one I noted yesterday) further reinforces my sense that significant investments in safer-driving technologies may be the most ready and cost-effective way to save innocent lives and improve public safety.
Recent related post:
- If concerned principally about saving lives and public safety, can one reasonably oppose mass use red-light cameras?
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
"Louisiana prisons expand inmate medical care through video conferencing"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article discussing an interesting technocorrections development in the bayou. Here is how the piece begins:
The Louisiana Department of Corrections has drastically expanded an online medical program in which doctors treat prisoners through video conferencing.
The department plans to take the number of offenders treated by telemedicine from 3,500 to 20,000 in the coming year. The shift is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's push to privatize state-run hospitals and medical clinics. Inmates traditionally received their more advanced or specialized treatment at those charity facilities.
The Department of Corrections provides primary physician care to offenders on site at state prisons. But officials now use video conferencing and other online services when inmates need to see medical specialists, like cardiologists and neurologists.
For example, an inmate who had recovered from a heart attack or cancer, and only needs routine check-ups to monitor their health, could seek treatment through telemedicine.
Dr. Raman Singh, medical director for the Department of Corrections, said telemedicine is supposed to supplement the traditional patient-doctor encounter. Offenders can go off site for doctor visits if needed, but a larger telemedicine program should cut back on the need for many outside medical trips.
Transporting prisoners to a clinic or hospital can be a complicated affair. Offenders require a secure vehicle and guards to accompany them on the journey, and the travel can also take several hours, since state prisons and medical facilities aren't necessarily near each other. In the case of one north Louisiana facility, offenders, had to make a three-hour round trip every time they needed more than very basic medical attention, said Singh.
Singh knows telemedicine works because LSU has been running an online doctor-offender program in south Louisiana facilities for years. Starting this month, Texas-based US Telehealth is providing online medical care to state prisons in central and north Louisiana, helping to cover the state's whole correctional system. The LSU School of Medicine had wanted to operate the prison contract statewide, but US Telehealth offered a better prices for its services, prompting the Department of Corrections to sign a partial system contract with the company.
Monday, September 30, 2013
How common are DVD submissions as mitigation evidence as part of federal sentencing?The question in the title of this post is prompted by a somewhat amusing discussion toward the end of a Ninth Circuit panel opinion released today in US v. Laurienti, No. 11-50294 (9th Cir. Sept. 30, 2013) (available here). The following passage from the opinion provides the context for the question:
Laurienti claims for the first time on appeal that the district court committed plain error when it did not read the last two pages of his sentencing memorandum or view a DVD he had submitted. We review these contentions under the same plain error standard applicable to his claim that the district court did not listen to his evidence in mitigation. We reject these contentions for two reasons.
First, the court provided Laurienti the opportunity to present the substance of those materials during sentencing. Laurienti did so, and the court listened to his position.[FN7]
Second, and more importantly, the court explained why further considering those materials would not change its decision. The court specifically stated that it had reviewed numerous letters from Laurienti’s family, friends, and business associates. The court did not, however, find these materials persuasive in light of Laurienti’s apparent attempts to avoid making restitution payments. Considering the cumulative nature of the DVD, and the fact that the court allowed Laurienti to discuss his sentencing position at length, Laurienti has failed to establish that the court’s refusal to consider the exhibits amounted to plain error requiring reversal.
[FN7] We note in passing that the time that the attorneys and this court have spent on the issue of the unread two pages and unwatched DVD was, in all likelihood, far more extensive (and, for the parties, expensive) than if the court had simply read and watched what was before it. As Benjamin Franklin astutely observed, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Under the circumstances, I am not suprised or troubled by the Ninth Circuit's resolution of this issue, though I can understand why a defendant might be both surprised and troubled that a judge at sentencing would report that he had not bothered to watch a DVD the defense team had created for the occassion. This, in turn, leads me to wonder if mitigation DVDs are common submissions by the defense in some federal courts or for some sets of defendants (and also whether judicial disregard of such DVDs submissions might also be common).
A few prior related posts:
- Interesting sign of the modern high-tech sentencing times
- "Documentation, Documentary, and the Law: What Should be Made of Victim Impact Videos?"
September 30, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Documenting the enduring challenges of reentry for parolees and society in Colorado
The Denver Post has had a series of recent notable article on parole policies, practices and practicalities under the heading "Behind Bars." Here are the headlines and links to some of the stories in the series:
Ever the fan of evidence-based policies and technocorrections, I was especially drawn to this article in this series headlined "Technology, quick-reaction programs guiding parole reform in other states." Here is how it starts:
Predicting who will murder is now a science. In cities including Philadelphia and Baltimore, high-tech software helps determine which parolees are most likely to kill and what level of supervision makes sense.
The crime-prediction computer program was developed by Richard A. Berk, a criminology and statistics professor at The University of Pennsylvania. "It's saved a lot of money, and resources for those at low risk have been moved to those at higher risk," Berk said. "Human behavior is complicated, and although parole boards might make the best decisions, there is inevitably going to be a mistake."
The software, which makes forecasts based on geographic location, age, type of crime and other variables, is helping parole boards and law enforcement keep closer watch on the most violent offenders.
In Baltimore, where the system is being used to help determine parolee and probation supervision levels, a test of the program on offenders from 2006 had a 75 percent rate in identifying who would kill and be killed, Berk said. The program doesn't predict whether parolees will commit other crimes. "It's hardly perfect, but we're doing much better than the current seat-of-your-pants forecasting," Berk said.
Pennsylvania is expected to apply the software for all parolees by the end of the year. Other states have found success moving away from parole-officer discretion to more restrictive supervision and rapid-reaction punishment.
A model program in Washington state dishes out swift and predictable consequences for parolees who mess up, according to Mark Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Criminals, in general, are short-term oriented, so in order to reform behavior, they need near-immediate reaction from their parole officer. Consequences "need to be fast and they need to be every time or they are not fair," said Kleiman, who formerly worked at the U.S. Department of Justice's criminal division.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
"Some prisons let inmates connect with tablets"The title of this post is the headline of this new USA Today article, which provides an effective overview of one interesting recent technocorrections development. The subheading of the piece is "Proponents say allowing inmates to use tablets will help reintegrate them into society and keep them from returning to jail." Here are excerpts:
Ohio became the latest state last month to allow inmates to purchase and use mini-tablet computers while incarcerated — a controversial move intended to better connect those in jail with their families and friends on the outside.
At least six other states, including North Dakota and Georgia, permit the practice, which proponents say will deepen prisoners' ties to their communities and keep them in sync with modern technology. "We have anticipation and hope to make it a good educational tool," said Ricky Seyfang, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Opponents are concerned the tablets will be used for illegal activities or brandished as weapons. "Our challenge is always how we give inmates the exposure to these tools while protecting public safety at the same time," said Douglas Smith III, chief information officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. Florida launched a pilot program last year to test Kindle devices for inmates.
Victims' rights groups say the devices make public safety increasingly difficult to achieve. Kristy Dyroff, director of communication at the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said there is the potential for "unrestricted and unsupervised outreach where inmates can revictimize or continue to intimidate victims."...
In the seven states that allow the tablets — Louisiana, Virginia, Michigan and Washington are the four others — inmates or their family members can purchase a $49.99 mini-tablet that allows them to send e-mails and listen to music, according to Tara Bertram, vice president of marketing at JPay, a mini-tablet vendor. The e-mails and any included attachments can be monitored by the state's department of corrections or the individual facility.
Jesse Jannetta, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said expanded technology access in prisons could help inmates transition into their communities — and keep them there — if the devices are used to contact family and potential employers. "It can be hard to build connections to people or organizations they'll be interacting with," Jannetta said.
Jannetta and others caution that tablets, like cellphones, can also breed criminal activity.... "Prisons have trouble containing all sorts of things," said Robert Coombs, spokesman for the National Reentry Resource Center. "You're dealing with folks who probably want to break some rules."
JPay tries to minimize that risk by loading only limited functions, such as music and gaming, on to its tablets. The decision to allow the devices in prisons is made by state corrections departments, Bertram said.
Another vendor, Keefe Group, launched an MP3 player and music download service for prisoners in 2009. The service netted more than 1 million downloads a year after it was introduced, according to a news release on its website.
This month, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler advocated for giving Android tablets to prisoners as a solution to close the "revolving door" of ex-offenders returning to jail. The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful said inmates would be allowed access to e-books, the state's library system, law resources and educational applications. Limited e-mail capability would also be offered.
That proposal could draw concern from taxpayers skeptical of investing more resources in jails. The average per-inmate cost a year is $31,286, ranging from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York, according to the Vera Institute, a research group focusing on justice systems. "When you're talking about buying individual pieces of technology and distributing them, it can be very controversial," Jannetta said.
As technology becomes increasingly embedded within society, some experts say its placement in more prisons is inevitable. "For us to expect inmates will possess the skills necessary to survive in the free world, we'll have to come to the realization they'll have to use these things," Smith said.
Recent related posts:
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Should prisoners all get iPads?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing Baltimore Sun story, which is headlined "Gansler proposes tablet computers for inmates: Gubernatorial hopeful says idea would help keep offenders from returning to jail." Here are the details:
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler pushed a novel solution Monday for closing what he called the "revolving door" of ex-offenders returning to prisons.
Give inmates tablet computers.
As Gansler envisions it, the proposal would help offenders build both education credentials and social support before they leave prison. The gubernatorial hopeful says the wireless devices would replace brick-and-mortar libraries and classrooms in the state's prison system, providing each inmate with an Android tablet that could connect with e-books, the state's library system, law resources and online learning programs.
They would also allow limited — and monitored — email access, so inmates could connect with family members. "It has to work," Gansler said. "It's common sense that it will work."
The tablet idea is one element of Gansler's 10-part proposal for integrating former inmates into communities. Statistics show that roughly half of the offenders who are released will return to the state's prison system within three years. The most recent state data available puts the rate at 43 percent. Gansler, who presented his plan in Baltimore at the latest in a series of meetings outlining his platform for governor, called the state's approach to re-entry a "policy mess."
The Android proposal drew concern from some in the corrections world, particularly in light of the recent federal indictment of a dozen Baltimore City Detention Center guards, who are accused of smuggling in cell phones to help the Black Guerrilla Family gang run a drug ring.
"There's a lot of challenges with providing Internet access to inmates," said Nancy G. La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "There's a real concern — I think a valid one — that access to the outside can threaten both inmates and staff.
"While it's innovative to think about delivering education with new technology, a lot of things need to be sorted out."
In a presentation to the Corrections Technology Association in June entitled "iPads for Inmates", the Virginia firm HomeWAV LLC listed what it said were the positive benefits: social and job skills, mentoring and rehabilitation. The cons: "gangs," "nudity," "corruption."
"It's a fascinating concept," said Robert Coombs, spokesman for the National Reentry Resource Center, a policy group.
Only a few inmates in Maryland have Internet access, state corrections spokesman Rick Binetti said. All are low-security, pre-release inmates who are permitted to use the Internet only to look for jobs, and only under the direct supervision of correctional officers.
Several states have set up Web kiosks that give limited access to inmates. A company called JPay sells a $49.99 mini-tablet to inmates in prisons in Virginia and Louisiana. Access is limited to music, games and a few other applications.
A New York startup called American Prison Data Systems has been shopping the idea of an indestructible 7-inch Android tablet that states would purchase for inmates' personal use. CEO Christopher Grewe said he expects to finish negotiating pilot projects in three states by the end of 2013. He proposes giving one to each inmate in a low or medium-security prison to limit potential fights. He said they would be designed so that they couldn't be converted into weapons. Each device would come with free access to libraries and legal resources, and cost $500 per year per inmate.
Maryland spends an average of $38,383 per year per prisoner, the Vera Institute of Justice reported last year. Grewe has pitched his idea as a way for states to improve education opportunities for inmates and save money on maintaining expensive classrooms and libraries....
Grewe said that algorithms and a 24-hour center in Ohio would scan all outgoing and incoming email on a 12- to 24-hour delay, and that devices could be heavily restricted or shut off remotely. "We can filter it five ways to Sunday," he said. Prisons, he said, "can't postpone dealing with the digital revolution any longer."
Gansler, in pitching his idea to a room full of people who work with offenders, suggested anyone who has seen the Oscar-nominated film "The Shawshank Redemption" knows libraries can be used as a means of transporting contraband. Replacing them with more secure tablets, he said, would save money and make sense.
"We have the ability in the 21st century to educate children online," Gansler said. "You can learn a language online. … Why can't we educate our offenders?"
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Intriguing AP review of the challenges of GPS tracking
The AP has this intriguing piece of new reporting on a (too?) popular modern form of technocorrections. The piece is headlined "Some Ankle Bracelet Alarms Go Unchecked," and here are excerpts:
Three decades after they were introduced as a crime-fighting tool, electronic ankle bracelets used to track an offender's whereabouts have proliferated so much that officials are struggling to handle an avalanche of monitoring alerts that are often nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work.
Amid all that white noise, alarms are going unchecked, sometimes on defendants now accused of new crimes. Some agencies don't have clear protocols on how to handle the multitude of alerts, or don't always follow them. At times, officials took days to act, if they noticed at all, when criminals tampered with their bracelets or broke a curfew....
Twenty-one agencies that responded to the AP inquiry logged 256,408 alarms for 26,343 offenders in the month of April alone. It adds up for those doing the monitoring. The 230 parole officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice handled 944 alerts per day in April. The Delaware Department of Correction, which has 31 field officers, handled 514 alarms per day....
Sorting through alerts, and deciding which are serious enough to merit a rapid response, can be fraught with peril....
Supporters of electronic monitoring say [violent crimes by monitored offenders who set off alarms and other] tragedies are the exception and that the devices are a valuable tool for authorities who previously relied only on shoe leather and the telephone to keep tabs on released prisoners. In many cases involving violence by people on trackers, the accused likely would have been free on bail or parole even if electronic monitoring didn't exist, and would have been far harder to monitor.
"No one should think this is going to be 100 percent effective," said George Runner, a former California legislator who wrote that state's voter-approved law requiring bracelets for all paroled sex offenders. "It's just a tool. When used, and used effectively, it can be not only helpful in modifying behavior, but we've heard stories about it actually preventing crimes."
Once used to track straying cows, electronic monitoring of criminals debuted in 1983, when a New Mexico judge inspired by a Spider-Man comic book allowed a man who violated probation to wear an ankle bracelet rather than go to jail. Use took off in the last decade, as technology improved and lawmakers became enamored of trackers as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration and a way of monitoring sex offenders for life.
Today, 39 states require monitoring of sex offenders. The biggest user of ankle bracelets is the federal government, which tracks people on pretrial release and probation, as well as thousands of immigrants fighting deportation....
"It's virtually impossible to sit there and track a person all day," said Kelly Barnett, a union official who represents probation officers doing GPS tracking in Michigan. Barnett said that while officers see value in the monitoring, such programs also give "a false sense of security to the community."
Studies have found mixed results on the devices' value as a crime deterrent. Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University, said he believes they are beneficial. Offenders wearing them tend to stay home more with their families. "They're glad to be in the free world, albeit tethered, rather than in prison," Bales said.
The key to making the devices work, he and other experts said, is to figure out how best to process the immense amounts of information they generate.
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Released sex offenders in Great Britain soon to be required to take regular polygraph testsAs reported in this article from across the pond, a novel (and apparently somewhat efficacious) approach to sex offender monitoring is being expanded in part of Great Britain after a successful pilot program. The article is headlined "Lie detector tests set to be introduced to monitor sex offenders: Politicians expected to approve law allowing compulsory polygraph tests of sex offenders released into community," and here are excerpts:
MPs are expected to clear the way for the introduction of compulsory lie detector tests to monitor convicted sex offenders across England and Wales from next January.
The national rollout of US-style mandatory polygraph tests for serious sex offenders who have been released into the community after serving their prison sentence follows a successful pilot scheme. The trial was carried out from 2009-11 in two Midlands probation areas and found that offenders taking such tests were twice as likely to tell probation staff they had contacted a victim, entered an exclusion zone or otherwise breached terms of their release licence.
Continuing concerns about the reliability of the tests and misinterpretation of the results mean they still cannot be used in any court in England and Wales. But it is expected that the compulsory polygraph tests will be used to monitor the behaviour of 750 of the most serious sex offenders, all of whom have been released into the community after serving a sentence of at least 12 months in jail.
The tests involve measuring reactions to specific questions by monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to assess whether the subject is being truthful. The results will be used to determine whether they have breached the terms of their release licence or represent a risk to public safety and should be recalled to prison.
The power to introduce compulsory lie detector tests was put on the statute book six years ago in the Offender Management Act 2007. On Tuesday MPs will debate secondary legislation in the form of a statutory instrument to come into force from 6 January 2014. The House of Lords will be asked to approve it later this month.
The justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Introducing lie detector tests, alongside the sex offenders register and close monitoring in the community, will give us one of the toughest approaches in the world to managing this group.
"We recently announced the creation of a National Probation Service tasked with protecting the public from the most high-risk offenders. They will be able to call on this technology to help stop sex offenders from reoffending and leaving more innocent victims in their wake."
Hertfordshire police used the tests in a pilot scheme in 2011 to help decide whether to charge suspected sex offenders and gauge the risk they posed to the public. "Low level" sex offenders were involved in the original pilot. At least six revealed more serious offending and were found to pose a more serious risk to children than previously estimated. A further trial was ordered but at the time the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced caution about the adoption of such tests: "Polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution to solving crimes, potentially offering in certain circumstances an additional tool to structured interrogation," a spokesman said.
Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in America, subject to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement agencies across the US.
I find curious that this article speaks of "US-style mandatory polygraph tests"; I am not aware of any US jurisdiction that uses mandatory polygraph testing as part of a program of sex offender monitoring. That said, I would not be at all surprised if some jurisdictions in the US were to consider such a requirement if there is good reason to believe that such testing does a reasonable job of sorting out more (and less) dangerous released sex offenders.
Though I suspect a number of civil rights and civil liberties groups in the US would be quick to express concerns about mandatory polygraph tests of sex offenders, I tend to be open-minded about the use of any form of technocorrections that might serve as a means to both increase public safety and ultimately offender liberty. For if post-release polygraph testing serves as a means to better assess enduring threats from more-dangerous released sex offenders, then other sex offenders can and should be able to rely on such a program to argue for allowing earlier release of some likely less-dangerous sex offenders (e.g., those who download child pornography but have never been involved in any contact offenses).
July 2, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack
Monday, June 17, 2013
"The Impact of Neuroimages in the Sentencing Phase of Capital Trials"The title of this post is the title of this notable new research paper now available on SSRN and co-authored by Michael Saks, N. J. Schweitzer, Eyal Aharoni and Kent Kiehl. Here is the abstract:
Although recent research has found that neurological expert testimony is more persuasive than other kinds of expert and non-expert evidence, no impact has been found for neuroimages beyond that of neurological evidence sans images. Those findings hold true in the context of a mens rea defense and various forms of insanity defenses. The present studies test whether neuroimages afford heightened impact in the penalty phase of capital murder trials.
Two mock jury experiments (n=825 and n=882) were conducted online using nationally representative samples of persons who were jury-eligible and death-qualified. Participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions varying the defendant’s diagnosis (psychopathy, schizophrenia, normal), type of expert evidence supporting the diagnosis (clinical, genetic, neurological sans images, neurological with images), evidence of future dangerousness (high, low), and whether the proponent of the expert evidence was the prosecution (arguing aggravation) or the defense (arguing mitigation).
For defendants diagnosed as psychopathic, neuroimages reduced judgments of responsibility and sentences of death. For defendants diagnosed as schizophrenic, neuroimages increased judgments of responsibility; non-image neurological evidence decreased death sentences and judgments of responsibility and dangerousness. All else equal, psychopaths were more likely to be sentenced to death than schizophrenics. When experts opined that defendant was dangerous, sentences of death increased. A backfire effect was found such that the offering party produced the opposite result than that being argued for when the expert evidence was clinical, genetic, or non-image neurological. But when the expert evidence included neuroimages, jurors moved in the direction argued by counsel.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Documenting problems with using electonic tracking for crime control in ColoradoThe Denver Post recently published this lengthy article headlined "Electronic monitoring of Colorado parolees has pitfalls," which documents that the benefit GPS tracking may depend on who monitors the monitoring. Here are exceprts:
One sex-offender parolee hooked his GPS tracking device to his dog's collar so he could consort with underage girls and collect firearms, drugs and ammunition, police say.
Another parolee disappeared from his motel the day he was tethered to an electronic monitor. He now is charged with raping two women and attempting to rape another. A third kept unplugging his monitoring device and ignored warnings that he stop moving without approval. Authorities now believe he killed a 59-year-old man at a motel.
Well before parolee Evan Ebel tore off his ankle bracelet in March and allegedly killed two people, including Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, the state's electronic-monitoring system showed signs of trouble. A Denver Post review of parolee cases and monitoring data from October to April found that serious alerts sometimes went unheeded until it was too late, even as the system generated thousands of false and minor notifications.
Colorado's most dangerous parolees are outfitted with high-tech equipment that is supposed to keep a close watch on their whereabouts. Monitors are strapped to their ankles and receivers installed in their residences. In the most serious sex-offender cases, parolee movements are tracked by a GPS system.
But problems arise. Batteries run down. Plugs get ripped from wall sockets. The systems go dark. The Post found several cases in which parole officers responded slowly as parolees went off the grid and allegedly committed new violent crimes....
Tim Hand, the state's director of parole, requested an audit by the National Institute of Corrections, a U.S. Department of Justice agency, following the Ebel case. Hand has not talked publicly since being placed on administrative leave last month, but in an interview in April, he said electronic monitoring is a challenge.
"The public thinks we put an ankle bracelet on and everything is fine, but the electronic monitoring is just a tool," Hand said. "It's better, in my view, than not having that tool, but it doesn't mean that offender can't cut it off and run away. It doesn't mean we're going to be able to control that offender's every move."...
Under the state's new rules, when a tamper alert occurs, parolees will be required to stay at their residences until parole officials can visit with them. Parole officers, who previously had the discretion to respond on their own time frame, will be required to visit a parolee's home within 24 hours after a tamper alert to decide whether an arrest warrant is needed.
Officials also plan later this month to submit a $600,000-a-year plan to legislative leaders for a new parole unit to track down absconders. In the past, those roundups occurred on an ad-hoc basis using overtime payments to parole officers, with the assistance of local law enforcement. There are currently more than 800 Colorado parole absconders....
The data showed that a team of 212 parole officers had to respond to nearly 90,000 alerts and notifications generated by the electronic monitoring devices in the six months reviewed.
Carl Sagara, a past deputy director of parole and community corrections in Colorado, said he suspects that such high volume quickly can become overwhelming to parole officers. "These guys come into the office in the morning, and they have got 30 guys on electronic monitors, and the computer has so much information on all these guys, and the parole officers just go, 'Holy smokes,' " Sagara said.
In addition, many electronic-monitoring programs throughout the nation aren't staffed appropriately, said George Drake, a consultant who has worked on improving the systems. "Many times when an agency is budgeted for electronic-monitoring equipment, it is only budgeted for the devices themselves," Drake said. "That is like buying a hammer and expecting a house to be built. It's simply a tool, and it requires a professional to use that tool and run the program."
He added that programs also can get out of control if officials don't develop stringent protocols for how to respond to alerts and don't manage how alerts are generated. "I see agencies with so many alerts that they can't deal with them," Drake said. "They end up just throwing their hands up and saying they can't keep up with them."
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
"Colorado Department of Corrections to Pilot Telemedicine for Prisoners"The title of this post is the headline of this interesting report, which starts this way:
In June, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DoC), in partnership with Denver Health Medical Center, will launch a pilot project designed to treat inmates using telemedicine. Doctors will start by providing consultations in areas like rheumatology, orthopedics, infectious disease and general surgery. Nineteen correctional facilities will participate in the pilot.
Driving prisoners to the hospital can be costly. Transportation usually happens after hours, which means that the DoC has to pay overtime wages to security officers. Also, prisoners could potentially escape during the trip. "The program improves accessibility to specialty care, and there’s been some use cases throughout the U.S. about inmates escaping, so this decreases the risk," explained Chris Wells, who is director of health IT architecture for Colorado's Governor's Office of Information Technology.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
In praise of NTSB seeking to save more innocent lives with tougher DUI lawsI was very pleased to see the news today, like this report from CNN, concerning a new recommendation to lower the level at which a driver is to be considered over the limit. Here are the details:
A common benchmark in the United States for determining when a driver is legally drunk is not doing enough to prevent alcohol-related crashes that kill about 10,000 people each year and should be made more restrictive, transportation safety investigators say.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday that all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content (BAC) cutoff of 0.05 compared to the 0.08 standard on the books today and used by law enforcement and the courts to prosecute drunk driving....
The idea for a tighter standard is part of a safety board initiative outlined in a staff report and approved by the panel to eventually eliminate drunk driving, which accounts for about a third of all road deaths in the United States.
Hersman said progress has been made over the years to reduce drunk driving, including a range of federal and state policies, tougher law enforcement, and stronger advocacy. But she said too many people are still dying on America's roads. The board acknowledged that there was "no silver bullet," but that more action is needed at the federal and state levels.
"In the last 30 years, more than 440,000 people have perished in this country due to alcohol-impaired driving. What will be our legacy 30 years from now?" Hersman asked. "If we don't tackle alcohol-impaired driving now, when will we find the will to do so?"
Lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives annually, the safety board said....
The NTSB investigates transportation accidents and advocates on safety issues. It cannot impose its will through regulation and can only recommend changes to federal and state agencies or legislatures, including Congress. But the independent agency is influential on matters of public safety and its decisions can spur action from like-minded legislators and transportation agencies nationwide. States set their own BAC standards.
The board also recommended on Tuesday that states vastly expand laws allowing police to swiftly confiscate licenses from drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limits. And it is pushing for laws requiring all first-time offenders to have ignition locking devices that prevent cars from starting until breath samples are analyzed.
In the early 1980s, when grass-roots safety groups brought attention to drunk driving, many states required a 0.15 BAC rate to demonstrated intoxication. But over the next 24 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups pushed states to adopt the 0.08 BAC standard, the last state falling in line in 2004.
The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities, meanwhile, dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011, the NTSB said. In recent years, about 31 percent of all fatal highway accidents were attributed to alcohol impairment, the NTSB said....
The NTSB cited research that showed most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions with a BAC of 0.05. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower, the safety board said. The NTSB has asked all 50 states to do the same.
A restaurant trade association, the American Beverage Institute, attacked the main recommendation, saying the average woman reaches 0.05 percent BAC after consuming one drink.... A beer industry trade group said it would examine NTSB's recommendation for lowering the blood-alcohol threshold. "However, we strongly encourage policymakers to direct their efforts where we know we can get results: by focusing on repeat offenders and increasing penalties on those with BAC of (0.15) or more," said Joe McClain, president of the Beer Institute....
The NTSB recommended last December that states require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders and said states should improve interlock compliance.
I concur with the recommendation coming from the Beer Institute that states get tougher ASAP on repeat drunk drivers and those caught driving with high BACs. But I think that should be done in addition to defining the legal limt for BAC lower, coupled with technological sanctions for first offenders. Specifically, as I have often noted in prior posts, states that require ignition locks for convicted drunk drivers have seen a marked decline in highway fatalities. Unless and until someone can prove to me that tipsy driving is more valuable than innocent human lives, I will praise any and all efforts by NTSB and others to do everything reasonable to reduce the harms of drinking and driving.
Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:
- Why do we worry so much more about sex offenders than drunk drivers?
- Technology versus toughness to combat drunk driving
- More examples of undue leniency shown to repeat drunk drivers
- "Some Coloradans drive until they kill"
- New York about to require ignition locks as mandated punishment for drunk driving
- Effective commentary complaining about undue leniency for drunk drivers
- Alcohol industry resistant to federal support for more DUI prevention technology
- Notable report on Oregon's use of technology to combat drunk driving
- Ignition lock law in Kansas seeming responsible for huge drop in DUI fatalities
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Sixth Circuit panel finds reasonable 30-day contempt sentence for courtroom cell phone use by observerThe sentencing component of this local Ohio article caught my attention based on the headline "Tweeting and texting earns Cleveland man contempt of court charge, 30 days in jail." Here are the basics:
Cell phones are routinely used in classrooms and bathrooms — sometimes even in churches. But not in federal courtrooms, where all electronic devices are banned. But that didn’t stop Maurtez Prince, 22, of Cleveland, from trying to sneak in a few tweets and texts last year during a buddy’s sentencing hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Akron.
Prince will be able to contemplate his crime from behind jail bars, where he will spend 30 days for contempt of court.
On May 31, the day of the friend’s sentencing, an assistant U.S. marshal spotted Prince using his cell phone in the courtroom and ordered him to turn it off, according to court documents. Later, the marshal again caught Prince texting and confiscated the phone.
Then, when Prince went to reclaim his phone, the marshal pointed out the three signs outside the courtroom banning cell phones and any cameras or recording devices, the court documents state. That’s when Prince admitted having photographed his friend with the phone.
When U.S. District Judge John Adams heard about the incident he ordered Prince to appear before him and explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt. Prince argued that he had not deliberately defied a court order against cell phones or taking photographs, his lawyer said. He claimed he hadn’t seen the signs, and had misunderstood the marshal, believing he simply had to silence his phone. "Mr. Prince was very apologetic to the judge and the marshal for what he did," said Assistant Federal Public Defender Edward Bryan. "He wasn’t cocky at all. It was his first time in federal court and he didn’t understand the seriousness of his actions."
But Adams was not persuaded and found Prince guilty, stating that "the most troubling part" of the crime was that Prince had continued using his phone after he had been ordered to stop. Adams sentenced Prince to 30 days in jail, but allowed him to remain free pending an appeal.
On Friday, a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati released a six-page opinion affirming Adams’s sentence. Judge Deborah Cook wrote that Prince demonstrated "willful disobedience" and that "ample evidence supports the district court’s contempt finding."
A sentence of a month in jail for use of a cell phone in a courtroom struck me as quite severe, but the unpublished Sixth Circuit panel opinion in US v. Prince, No. 12-3789 (6th Cir. April 19, 2013) (available here), suggests to me there may be a lot more to the story. Specifically, the panel opinion highlights that Prince has a significant criminal history and that he may have been doing something quite nefarious when seeking to take pictures and send texts during another's federal sentencing proceedings. In other words, after reading the panel opinion in Prince, I was less troubled by the decision to sentence this defendant to a month in lock-up for his contempt of court.
But I remain curious and uncertain as to whether there are perhaps some First Amendment implications here given that the courtroom Prince was in was not sealed and that sentencings are generally to be public proceedings. I presume the First Amendment would generally preclude a courtroom spectator from being punished for writing/reporting on-line (say on a blog) about a public federal sentencing while that spectator has moved into the hallways of a public courthouse. Should I just view the courtroom ban/punishment here a proper time, place, manner restriction on the First Amendment, or do others agree there might be some important constitutional issues here?
April 21, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Friday, April 12, 2013
Two discussions suggesting potential virtues of shame punishments
I have just noticed two notable punishment theory papers via SSRN discussing shame punishments. This broader piece by Luke Coyne is titled "Can Shame Be Therapeutic?" and here is its abstract:
This paper focuses on alternative judicial punishments such as reciprocal and humiliation punishments. It explores the past and present use of such punishments. It covers the theories behind the use of these punishments. It also takes a look at the praise and criticism for the use of these punishments. Additionally, the paper discusses the use and effects of these punishments, including recidivism rates.
This other piece is by Xiyin Tang is a bit more focused. It is titled "Shame: A Different Criminal Law Proposal for Bullies," and here is the abstract:
Public concern over bullying has reached an all-time high. The absence of a sensible criminal charging and sentencing regime for the problem recently reared its head in the highly-publicized prosecution of Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of 15 counts and faced the possibility of 10 years in prison. This Essay argues that existing criminal statutes used to address the problem, like bias intimidation and invasion of privacy, do not fit neatly with the specific wrongs of bullying. However, recently-enacted “cyberbullying” laws, which give complete discretion to school administrators, are weak and ineffective.
I propose another solution: first, to criminalize the act of bullying itself, thus sending a powerful expressive message that can flip the high school and teenage norm of meanness as virtue. To reinforce that message, sentencing a bully to shaming, not imprisonment, better serves utilitarian, expressive, rehabilitative, and retributive goals specific to the wrongs of bullying.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
"Pretrial Detention and the Right to Be Monitored"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN by Samuel Wiseman. Here is the abstract:
The typical academic concern with respect to advancing criminal justice technology, be it wiretaps or surveillance drones, is that there will be too much of it. In the context of pretrial justice, however, we have the opposite problem. Although detention for dangerousness has received far more attention in recent years, a significant number of non-dangerous but impecunious defendants are jailed to ensure their presence at trial due to continued, widespread reliance on a money bail system. Increasingly sophisticated forms of electronic monitoring have the potential to mitigate flight risk at least as well as money bail at a cost to defendants and the state lower than money bail’s necessary concomitant, pretrial detention. But the long, mostly sad history of bail reform efforts suggests that, unlike wiretaps, electronic monitoring in lieu of detention will not be adopted through the political process in many jurisdictions.
This paper develops two related claims. First, in the near term, electronic monitoring will present a superior alternative to money bail for addressing flight risk. In contrast to previous proposals for reducing pretrial detention rates, including increased use of personal recognizance bonds and varying forms of supervision by pretrial services agencies, electronic monitoring has the potential to both reduce fugitive rates (by allowing the defendant to be easily located) and government expenditures (by reducing the number of defendants detained at state expense). Moreover, the usual objections to government monitoring -- the intrusion on individual privacy and the threat of surveillance extending to new segments of society -- have relatively little force in the pretrial context, where detention currently all but extinguishes privacy interests, and the number of criminal defendants is largely independent of the means of preventing flight.
Secondly, despite the potential benefits to defendants and governments, electronic monitoring is not likely to be adopted by legislative or executive action. The commercial bail industry has a significant financial incentive to maintain the status quo, and it has repeatedly blunted previous reform efforts. Thus, although there is a lively debate over the institutions best suited to respond to advances in investigative technology, here the best prospect for meaningful change is clearly the judiciary generally, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of Excessive Bail more specifically. To achieve this goal, however, the courts will, for the first time, have to develop a meaningful jurisprudence of excessiveness to test the fit between the government’s pretrial goals and the means employed to accomplish them. The paper begins this inquiry, arguing that the text, purpose, and history of the Amendment all support the requirement that the chosen means be, at minimum, not substantially more burdensome than necessary. Under this standard, a money bail system that leads to widespread detention without a corresponding increase in performance or savings cannot survive in the face of a less restrictive technological alternative.
Long-time readers know I am a fan of both the Eighth Amendment and of the potential of technocorrections to reduce the modern incarceration "footprint." I thus find especially intriguing and appealing the notion that the Eighth Amendment might give defendants a right to demand a technocorrections alternative to incarceration in some settings.
April 4, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack