Thursday, September 11, 2014

Symposium papers on "NSA Surveillance: Security, Privacy, and Civil Liberty"

Though not focused on core sentencing issues, a new set of symposium papers published in a great law journal at Ohio State may be of interest to many blog.  The Summer 2014 issue of I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society is the result of a symposium on “NSA Surveillance: Security, Privacy, and Civil Liberty.”  Here is a listing of the impressive group of papers that are all available at this link:

September 11, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Might all video visitation companies be eager to have prisons and jail prohibition in-person visitation?

Video_visits_drawingRegular readers know I believe modern technologies can and should be used as much as possible to improve the functioning and efficacy of modern crimnal justice systems.  Consequently, I tend to be a supporter of expanded use of video technologies in criminal corrections.  But this notable local story from Dallas, headlined "In-person jail visits to continue after Dallas County rejects videoconferencing idea," makes me more than a little uncomfortable about the economics behind some corrections technology and prompts the question in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts from this interesting local story:  

Face-to-face visits will continue at the Dallas County Jail after county commissioners threw out a proposed contract with a videoconferencing company that would have banned them.

The company, Securus Technologies, was seeking a contract to provide video visitations at the jail. Commissioners said they were still interested in the service, but not at the cost of stopping in-person visits.

The ban on face-to-face visits appeared to be a way for the company, which is based in North Texas, to recoup its expenses for installing the video-visitation system. The company was going to spend around $5 million to set up the technology. It would then charge $10 for each 20-minute video chat. Dallas County would have received up to a 25 percent commission on those calls.

Prohibiting in-person visits almost surely would have increased the number of video chats, which in turn would boost revenues for Securus — and for the county. But when details of the contract were made public last week, County Judge Clay Jenkins led a last-ditch effort to reject it. Backed by inmates’ rights advocates, Jenkins said the contract made video visits too costly.

“It is a way to make money … off the backs of families,” he said. He also said eliminating in-person visits would be inhumane.

Commissioners were flooded with emails opposing the contract. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Commissioners Court, 17 people showed up to speak out against the plan. They included a man convicted of a murder for which he was later exonerated and a former state legislator, Terri Hodge, who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. After more than two hours of discussion, the court voted to pull the item from its agenda. The staff was instructed to seek a new contract under different terms. Those new terms are to include the continuation of in-person visits and elimination of the county’s commission on video visits....

Dallas County has been exploring video visitation for years. It’s been portrayed as an additional option for inmates’ friends and families who can’t or won’t trek downtown to the jail. But county staff acknowledged that the technology is also intended to save money. Managing visitors and moving inmates to visitation areas takes significant staff time, they said.

Commissioner Mike Cantrell said he thought the per-minute cost of the video chats was fair. He said the county spends about $107 million a year to run the jail and brings in about $10.8 million in bond forfeitures, fines and other assessments on inmates. But the commissioners were unanimous in not wanting to eliminate in-person visits. That was also the main concern of the plan’s opponents who spoke at the meeting, including several defense attorneys....

Richard Miles, who spent nearly 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, said visits from loved ones are vital to the well-being and rehabilitation of inmates. “My father died while I was in prison,” he said. “What did I hold on to? My visits.”

Some prior related posts:

September 10, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, July 05, 2014

"The Double Edged Sword of Prison Video Visitation: Claiming to Keep Families Together While Furthering the Aims of the Prison Industrial Complex"

The title of this post is the title of this notable article by Patrice A. Fulcher now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Each year, the United States (“U.S.”) spends billions to house the country’s massive prison population.  The need to board over 2.3 million incarcerated human beings has U.S. correctional departments looking for ways to increase revenues and offset costs. According to these correctional agencies, one major expense is prison visitation.  In order to reduce spending and alleviate safety concerns, U.S. federal, state, and private correctional facilities have turned to video visitation as an alternative to in-person visits.

The use of prison video visitation systems started in 1995.  Since then, many private telecommunications companies have professed to have the solution to correctional visitation problems.  These companies promote video visitation as a cheap, safe, and easy alternative to in-person visits, as well as a profitable means of generating revenues. Government and private correctional institutions, buying into these endorsements, have reduced or completely eliminated face-to-face visits and installed video visitation systems within their walls.  Under this structure, inmates use video stations in their cellblock to visit family and friends at corresponding video kiosks within the institution; or inmates visit loved-ones who are at home or elsewhere outside prison walls via computer Internet video visitation.

In order to sell this method of visitation to the public, U.S. correctional agencies contend that video visitation helps to keep families together by allowing inmates greater contact opportunities with loved ones.  In some regards, it may be argued that video visitation does assist in the preservation of family units.  Inmates are often forced to serve time in prisons miles away from their homes, so outside visits are far and few between.  Yet, through the use of in-home video visitation configurations, inmates are able to connect with relatives who reside hours away.

At first glance, this visitation scheme may seem beneficial, but this Article argues that prison video visitation is a double edge sword.  First, prison video visitation may help preserve family units while people are incarcerated, but the elimination of face-to-face visits robs inmates of much needed human contact with their children, spouses, and other family members.  Second, almost all in-home prison video visitation systems exploit the relatives and friends of inmates because they charge excessive fees to visit.  Third, the economic success of prison video visitation systems is contingent on the number of incarcerated humans.  So, like other profiteering schemes of the Prison Industrial Complex (“PIC”), prison video visitation incentivizes incarceration: A decrease in the prison population has a corollary effect on million dollar revenues and corporate profits, hence compelling the need to detain more U.S. inhabitants.

Consequently, this Article argues that face-to-face visitation should be the primary means of contact for families that visit at prison facilities.  In order to accomplish this goal, inmates must be assigned to correctional facilities close to their homes if space is available and there is no proven risk to security.  Additionally, if prison video visitation is utilized, any fees associated with its use must be regulated to insure that the financial expense is not exorbitant.

July 5, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

An (overly?) optimistic account of how GPS technology could "solve" mass incarceration

This recent article from Vox, headlined "Prisons are terrible, and there’s finally a way to get rid of them," praises and promotes efforts to use GPS tracking to reduce US reliance on incarceration. The article strikes me as a bit too optimistic, but it does assembled some research that may justify such optimism.  Here is a snippet from the start of the article that highlights its themes:

So why do prisons exist? In theory, because we need them. They keep bad guys off the street. They give people a reason to not commit crimes. They provide a place where violent or otherwise threatening people can be rehabilitated.

But prisons aren't the only way to accomplish those goals. Technological advancements are, some observers say, making it possible to replace the current system of large-scale imprisonment, in large part, with alternatives that are not as expensive, inhumane, or socially destructive, and which at the same time do a better job of controlling crime. The most promising of these alternatives fits on an ankle.

While the idea of house arrest has been around for millennia, it has always suffered from one key defect as a crime control tool: you can escape. Sure, you could place guards on the homes where prisoners are staying, but it's much easier to secure a prison with a large guard staff than it is a thousand different houses with a guard or two apiece.

Today, we have something better than guards: satellites. The advent of GPS location tracking means it's now possible for authorities to be alerted the second a confinee leaves their home. That not just enables swift response in the event of escape; it deters escape by making clear to detainees that they won't get away with it.

July 2, 2014 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Notable SCOTUS consensus that Fourth Amendment requires a warrant for cell phone searches

The Supreme Court handed down this morning its last big criminal justice decisions of this Term with a near unanimous ruling in Riley v. California and US v. Wurie. The decision for the Court (available here) was authored by the Chief Justice, and here is how it begins and some of its essential parts:

These two cases raise a common question: whether the police may, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested....

[A] balancing of interests supported the search incident to arrest exception in Robinson, and a mechanical application of Robinson might well support the warrantless searches at issue here.

But while Robinson’s categorical rule strikes the appropriate balance in the context of physical objects, neither of its rationales has much force with respect to digital content on cell phones....

We therefore decline to extend Robinson to searches of data on cell phones, and hold instead that officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting such a search....

We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime.  Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals.  Privacy comes at a cost....

Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience.  With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans “the privacies of life,” Boyd, supra, at 630.  The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.  Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that there was one Justice who felt compelled to write a separate concurrence to express some misgivings about the majority's forceful pro-defendant ruling here. Usefully, both the Chief's opinion and the one concurring opinion likely provides lots of interesting discussion of Fourth Amendment interests and applications that should keep commentators buzzing and blogging (and tweeting) about modern privacy law for some time.

June 25, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ohio legislature wisely considering move to make ignition locks mandatory for DUI offenders

Though I often advocate against lengthy federal mandatory minimum prison terms, I am not categorically opposed to legislative sentencing mandates when there is good reason to believe that the particulars of the mandate will likely save lives and have a limited impact on human liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Consequently, I was very pleased to see this story in my local paper today, headlined "All drunken drivers may be subject to safeguard," discussing a proposal in Ohio to make ignition locks mandatory for all drunk driving offenders.  Here are the details:

Ohio lawmakers are considering requiring first-time drunken-driving offenders to have an ignition breathalyzer installed on their cars to confirm their sobriety during a six-month penalty period. The law now allows judges to order the ignition interlocks, but the House bill would make their use mandatory. Offenders convicted twice within six years must use the devices.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, cites federal figures that ignition-interlock devices reduce DUI re-arrest rates by 67 percent. About 25,000 first-time offenders are convicted each year in Ohio. The devices would replace a system in which first-time DUI offenders are not allowed to drive for 15 days and then can obtain limited driving privileges to travel to work, school and medical appointments.

“There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again,” Johnson said. “This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent we are reasonably able to do so.”

A change in the bill last week also would require those charged with DUI but convicted of lesser offenses, such as physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, to install the machines in their cars....

Only about 5,000 Ohioans, including repeat DUI offenders, are required each year to use ignition interlocks, said Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD. Twenty states now require their use by first-time offenders. “Requiring the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers will help prevent repeat offenses and, in so doing, save lives,” Scoles said.

The State Highway Patrol reports 341 people died in drunken-driving crashes last year. Seventy-seven people have been killed so far this year, 38 fewer that at the same time in 2012.

The bill is dubbed “Annie’s Law” in memory of Chillicothe lawyer Annie Rooney, who was killed last year by a drunken driver now serving eight years in prison. Her family has campaigned for passage of the bill. Lara Baker-Morrish, chief prosecutor for the city of Columbus, calls the legislation “a very good idea.”

“It does curb the behavior we’re trying to get at, and it has been proven to save lives,” she said. Courts would have to find ways to monitor the increase in ignition-interlock reports on drivers and find funding to ensure devices are made available to those who can’t afford installation and monitoring, she said.

I hope my old pal Bill Otis is heartened to hear of my support for a legislative sentencing mandate. I also hope those who advocate forcefully for rigid forms of gun control and for drug control recognize that that drunk drivers often pose a greater threat to innocent lives and the pursuit of happiness than even drunk gun owners or heroin dealers and that clever technologies, rather than crude prohibitions, may be the most politically wise and practically workable means to reduce these threats.

June 14, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, June 06, 2014

Why those who follow sentencing and corrections reform should be following drones

Drone-615x345Regular readers and all my students know that I generally believe any and every important public policy issues is related in some significant way to sentencing and/or corrections issues.  More support for this view comes from this local article highlighting why and how drone law and policy could have am impact on sentencing law and policy.  The article is headlined "Drones over Ohio prisons? Officials mull the idea," and here are excerpts:

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has expressed interest in using drones to monitor the grounds around prisons, said Andrew Parker, director of WSRI. Drones would be able to not only sense if inmates were trying to escape, but also if people on the outside are trying to smuggle items into the prison.

“We’ve heard a lot of information about the precision agriculture uses of drones but this is another example of a use people might not have originally envisioned,” Parker said.

Drone sensor systems such as infrared sensors would be able to detect movement around the prisons in a less expensive way than setting up security sensors around the perimeter of the grounds. ODRC has considered using such drones as a service, Parker said, adding such a service could begin before the end of the year.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Corrections confirmed officials were on site in Wilmington today for a demonstration, but said they would need to evaluate and discuss the demonstration before they could comment further on the idea.

I am not sure what civil liberties groups and Senator Rand Paul and others who've expressed concerns about drones might have to say about this use of the technology. But I suspect that prison guard unions are not likely to be too excited by the prospected of some other their jobs being replaced by the latest brave-new-world innovation.

June 6, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Newt Gingrich and Van Jones say "Prison system is failing America"

Not only has CNN brought together a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and a former advisory to President Barack Obama as co-hosts of "Crossfire," but it now has published this interesting joint commentary under the headline "Prison system is failing America."  Here are excerpts from an interesting opinion piece that goes a bit beyond just the usual standard points about the various problems with modern mass incarceration:

Thirty-eight U.S. states are home to fewer people than live under the corrections system in this country. There are about as many people behind bars as live in Chicago. That's one in every 108 Americans. One in 35 are under some form of correctional supervision.

Among African Americans, the numbers are even more horrifying. According to the NAACP, one in three black males born in the United States today is likely to spend time in prison at some point in his life. That's compared with one in six Hispanic males or one in 25 white males.

It would be hard to overstate the scale of this tragedy. For a nation that loves freedom and cherishes our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the situation should be intolerable. It is destroying lives and communities.

Our corrections system is not correcting. Within three years of being released from prison, nearly half of prisoners are convicted of another crime with one out of every four ending up back in prison.

When a typical bureaucracy does its job this badly, it wastes money, time and paper. The corrections bureaucracy, in failing to correct the large majority of inmates in its charge, not only wastes money but also wastes lives, families and entire cities.

The current system is broken beyond repair. It's a human, social and financial disaster. We need a radical strategy of replacement of these huge bureaucracies that lack any meaningful oversight.... We need to rethink prisons, parole and probation for the 21st century.

At a time when high-quality education is increasingly digital and in many cases free, shouldn't we provide opportunities for prisoners to learn skills that will enable them to support themselves as upstanding citizens when they are released?

We know that inmates who earn a GED while incarcerated are substantially less likely to return to prison. There are readily available online tools that our prisons could use extensively for a minimal cost to increase the number of inmates receiving valuable education and skills training.

Khan Academy has replicated virtually the entire K-12 curriculum online for free. Udacity and other online education sites offer introductions to software programming for free. Our prisons should be using tools such as these extensively. They offer the opportunity to interrupt the cycle of poverty, a failing education system, crime and incarceration....

Technology should revolutionize more than just the prisons' rehabilitation programs. It should completely transform the corrections and criminal justice systems.... [T]echnology should enable much more effective probation and community supervision, especially new options that could allow nonviolent offenders to remain with their families living productive lives under an appropriate level of restriction.

Almost any activity to which we might sentence low-level offenders --apprenticeship programs, school, literacy or computer science boot camps, community service -- would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than sticking them idle in prison with hardened criminals. Unfortunately, the current corrections bureaucracy has embraced none of this innovation -- in part because it is captive to the prison guards' unions or the private prison lobby, and in part because it lacks any incentives or sufficient competition based on the right metrics....

Years ago, Van proposed that states give wardens a financial incentive to cut the rates of recidivism for inmates leaving their prisons. More than 65% of inmates in California return to prison within three years of their release, where they will again cost taxpayers an average of $47,000 each year.

Surely it is worth giving wardens a substantial portion of the savings for every inmate that leaves their prison and does not re-offend. Such incentives would spark dramatically more innovation and investment in rehabilitation, job training and job placement programs for prisoners. That would be a revolutionary change from prison administrators' current incentives, which are often to keep as many people in custody as possible.

Finally, we need real market competition that rewards success at every step of the process -- in probation and parole offices as well as prisons. That doesn't just mean privatizing prisons or rewarding probation services with the same failed metrics. We need competition of methods and ideas based on the right criteria: When we send prisoners home, do they have the skills to reintegrate in their communities as working, law-abiding citizens? Or do they end up coming back?...

We should start by opening our prisons and probation offices to innovation to save money, achieve better outcomes for individuals and ensure better safety for us all.

May 22, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"'Not Just a Common Criminal': The Case for Sentencing Mitigation Videos"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Regina Austin now available via SSRN. Here is the a abstract:

Sentencing mitigation or sentencing videos are a form of visual legal advocacy that is produced on behalf of defendants for use in the sentencing phases of criminal cases (from charging to clemency).  The videos are typically short (5 to 10 minutes or so) nonfiction films that explore a defendant’s background, character, and family situation with the aim of raising factual and moral issues that support the argument for a shorter or more lenient sentence.  Very few examples of mitigation videos are in the public domain and available for viewing.

This article provides a complete analysis of the constituent elements of these videos, particularly their narrative structure.  It raises strategic considerations that are pertinent to the decision to use a video during the sentencing process and explores questions of image ethics that can arise when a defendant’s children and parents are enlisted as video witnesses.  Finally and most importantly, it addresses the hearsay challenges that not only present obstacles to the admission of sentencing videos in formal sentencing proceedings, but also impact the weight they are accorded in general.

April 22, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, March 24, 2014

AG Eric Holder announces new rules for federal halfway houses

Via this official press release, I see that Attorney General Eric Holder is continuing his effort to reshape the policies and practices of the federal criminal justice system, this time through new policies and programming for federal halfway houses.  The title and subtitle of the press release itself provides a summary of this latest development: "In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior to Release; New Rules Also Instruct Federal Halfway Houses to Provide Transportation Assistance, Cell Phone Access in Order to Help Inmates Seek Employment Opportunities."

Here is more from the start of the press release:

In a new step to further the Justice Department’s efforts towards enhancing reentry among formerly incarcerated individuals, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will impose new requirements on federal halfway houses that help inmates transition back into society.  Under the proposed new requirements, these halfway houses will have to provide a specialized form of treatment to prisoners, including those with mental health and substance abuse issues.  For the first time, halfway houses will also have to provide greater assistance to inmates who are pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to be used by inmates and providing funds for transportation.  The new requirements also expand access to electronic monitoring equipment, such as GPS-equipped ankle bracelets, to allow more inmates to utilize home confinement as a reentry method.

Holder announced the changes in a video message posted on the Department’s website. The BOP’s new policies have the potential to be far-reaching. To ease their transition, those exiting prison typically spend the last few months of their sentence in either a federal halfway house — known as a residential reentry center (RRC) — or under home confinement, or a combination of the two. These community-based programs provide much needed assistance to returning citizens in finding employment and housing, facilitating connections with service providers, reestablishing ties to family and friends, and more.

Last year alone, more than 30,000 federal inmates passed through a halfway house. Among the most significant changes Holder announced is the requirement for standardized Cognitive Behavioral Programming (CBP) to be offered at all federal halfway houses.  This treatment will address behavior that places formerly incarcerated individuals at higher risk of recidivism. As part of this treatment requirement, BOP is setting guidelines for instructor qualifications, class size and length, and training for all staff at the halfway houses.

Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.

March 24, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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."

March 18, 2014 in Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

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:

February 24, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

December 29, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

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?

Traffic-fatalities-art-gnkpkaoq-11115gfx-fatalities-chart-epsThe 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:

November 15, 2013 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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.

October 15, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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:

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.

September 24, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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:

August 18, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Should prisoners all get iPads?

Ipadbars_0The 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?"

August 7, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack