Monday, October 10, 2011

Oklahoma using electronic monitoring to enable earlier prisoner releases

As detailed in this interesting local article, headlined "Hundreds of Oklahoma prisoners could be released Nov. 1," a notable sentencing reform plan incorporating technocorrections goes into effect this week in the Sooner State.  Here are the particulars (along with the usual expressions of concern from the tough-on-crime crowd):

Oklahoma corrections officials say they are preparing to put as many as 250 to 300 inmates in ankle monitors and release them. Prosecutors throughout the state are upset.

The inmates, convicted of nonviolent offenses, are set to be released starting Nov. 1. That is when a new law intended to relieve prison overcrowding goes into effect.  The law changes when certain nonviolent inmates become eligible for ankle monitors.

“I suspect that many — if not most — of the legislators that voted for this didn't realize it was going to have the result of releasing several hundred inmates on Nov. 1,” said Michael Fields, district attorney for Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties.

“I have a hard time believing that legislators understood that whenever they agreed to vote for this law,” Fields said.  “I doubt that would have been their intent because many of those legislators are our allies on public safety issues. I think that this clearly does undermine public safety.”

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the goal actually is to increase public safety. He said the change will put more low-risk, mostly female inmates into the successful electronic monitoring program so corrections officials can focus their limited resources on inmates who are truly threats to society....

Currently, in general, no nonviolent inmate is eligible for an ankle monitor until he gets down to the last 11 months of his sentence. Starting Nov. 1, offenders with sentences of five years or less become eligible once they have served 90 days, if no other restrictions apply.

Prosecutors said Friday public confidence in sentences will be undermined if quick releases start happening. “Then, I will stop sending people to prison for less than five years,” said Greg Mashburn, district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties. “I mean, I'll have no choice. If I intended them to go to prison, I intended them to stay for more than 90 days. I will absolutely adjust what I'm doing on my cases so this isn't happening.”

Mashburn said ankle monitors haven't worked well in his counties. He recalled three instances where offenders on ankle monitors committed crimes. “Ankle monitors, it's not the great answer. ... A lot of people think, ‘Well, if they're on an ankle monitor, we can stop them from committing crimes.' All we're going to be able do is know where they were when they were committing the crime,” Mashburn said.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he worries whether the overburdened and underfunded Corrections Department will have enough officers to keep track of the hundreds of new inmates on ankle monitors. “It's almost impossible for them to adequately supervise even people on probation,” Prater said. “There's no way that the Department of Corrections has the capability to adequately supervise those prisoners on ankle monitors and assure the public that they will be kept safe.”

Corrections Department Director Justin Jones said few inmates will get ankle monitors after only 90 days. Most will need more time. “It would be the exception and not the rule,” Jones said. “Some needs are going to have to be addressed … before we put them into a re-entry program. … Rational behavior training, substance abuse, anger management, parenting skills, fatherhood skills, those kinds of things.”

Corrections officials originally came up with a list of 1,133 nonviolent offenders already serving sentences to be considered for ankle monitors because of the new law.

The original list included burglars, drug offenders, embezzlers, drunken drivers and thieves. Officials have been eliminating from that list inmates who do not qualify for ankle monitors for other reasons, such as they have no suitable residences where they can go.

Prosecutors say they have been told as many as 600 inmates will get ankle monitors Nov. 1. But the Corrections Department director said the list is now down to around 400 and will probably be cut down to 250 to 300.

“We consider it a very successful re-entry program,” Jones said. “And it is controlled. And it is custody because of the devices and the supervision by an officer.” The director said more than 90 percent of the females who get ankle monitors succeed and 86 percent of the males do....

About 450 convicts already are on ankle monitors, a Corrections Department spokesman said. Their movements are tracked by GPS.  The House speaker and Corrections Department director both said most of the inmates who will be getting ankle monitors Nov. 1 are already in halfway houses and other community correction centers. Steele said he understands more officers have been hired to track their movements. “I really do think it's much ado about nothing,” Steele said of prosecutors' concerns.

Whatever Oklahoma prosecutors might say say about what they think their state legislators did not realize, I suspect somebody behind this legislation concluded that it was more politically palatable than raising taxes to pay for more prison beds.  (I have long thought that if state sentencing reforms included an automatic increase in prosecutorial funding based on a percentage of savings that come from decreases in incarceration levels, prosecutors would not always have such a predictable reaction to sentencing reforms that result in some early releases.)

October 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, September 26, 2011

"California To Allow Prisoners To Serve Sentences Online"

Onion The title of this post is the amusing headline of this story in The Onion:

Faced with a mandate to cut the state's prison population by 30,000, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Monday it would begin allowing prisoners to serve their sentences online.

"Inmates are required to log in promptly every morning at 6 a.m.," CDCR secretary Matthew Cate said. "But make no mistake, this is not some online holiday resort prison. Offenders spend at least eight hours a day entering data and can only see visitors in the chat room once a week.  The real advantage of the Internet penitentiary is that it streamlines the entire corrections process, allowing a standard five-year sentence to be completed electronically in as little as three weeks."

Cate added that while there was still a problem with prison rape, inmates could report an assault or any other issue by clicking on the "Ask the Warden" button

September 26, 2011 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 24, 2011

NJ appellate ruling limits new GPS monitoring of past sex offenders

As detailed in this local article, this past week a New Jersey "state appeals court ruled that forcing a sex offender convicted more than 20 years ago to comply with GPS monitoring rules that were enacted about four years ago violates his constitutional rights." Here are the basics:

In the 2-1 decision, the Appellate Division of Superior Court reversed a state parole board decision that required George C. Riley, a Tier III sex offender, to wear a GPS ankle bracelet. The court said the requirements of the monitoring program constituted a level of punishment that violates the constitutional provision barring retroactive laws.

“We conclude that although the Legislature's intention in enacting the Sex Offender Monitoring Act was civil and nonpunitive, the act is so punitive in effect that it violates the ex post facto clause,” Judges Stephen Skillman and Marianne Espinosa said in their decision.

In his dissent, Judge Anthony J. Parrillo said while the GPS monitoring may be more burdensome than the yearly registration requirements for sex offenders, “it does not rise to the level of a direct and punitive disability or restraint,” and is far less restrictive than the involuntary civil confinement some sex offenders are subject to upon completion of their prison terms.

“Simply put, the majority's constitutional tolerance of laws that register, publicize, monitor and indefinitely institutionalize sex offenders after completion of their criminal sentences cannot logically be reconciled with its avowed distaste for a rule requiring the most serious sex offenders, who remain free to live, work and walk wherever they please, to submit to a form of electronic surveillance,” he wrote.

Because the appellate decision was split, if the state Attorney General’s Office files an appeal, the case would automatically be heard by the state Supreme Court.

The lengthy majority ruling (running 30+ pages) and the dissenting opinion (running 20+ pages) are available at this link.  I suspect the New Jersey Supreme Court will get asked to review this ruling, and I further expect this kind of technocorrections issue to get all the way to the US Supreme Court eventually.

September 24, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Electronic Monitoring Reduces Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this helpful new "In Short" publication from the National Institute of Justice that provides a summary of a notable new lengthy report on electronic monitoring and offenders’ risk of failing to meet the terms of their probation. Here is the start of the NIJ summary:

A large NIJ-funded study of Florida offenders placed on electronic monitoring found that monitoring significantly reduces the likelihood of failure under community supervision. The decline in the risk of failure is about 31 percent compared with offenders placed on other forms of community supervision.

Researchers from Florida State University’s Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research compared the experiences of more than 5,000 medium-and high-risk offenders who were monitored electronically to more than 266,000 offenders not placed on monitoring over a six-year period. The researchers worked with the Florida Department of Corrections to secure approval, obtain administrative data, and gain help in contacting local probation offices for interviews. The researchers interviewed offenders, probation officers, supervisors and administrators to uncover insights into the electronic monitoring process.

I think it is fantastic that NIJ is producing this brief research reviews, as I am much more likely to read and understand this NIJ publication, which runs 4 pages, instead of the underlying research study, which runs over 200 pages.  It is always nice to see my federal tax dollars going to such a good end, especially when it also provides me with helpful blog fodder.

September 19, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Michigan judge now assailed for sentencing toughness on drunk drivers

Regular readers may recall the buzz and interesting debates surrounding drunk driving sentences in Michigan late last month in the run-up and aftermath of ESPN commentator Jalen Rose's state sentencing on this offense.  This new piece from the Detroit Free Press, which is headlined "Oakland County judge challenged on drunken-driving jail sentences," reports on an interesting epilogue to the story:

A Bloomfield Hills attorney and a Wayne State University law professor are challenging 48th District Judge Kimberly Small's policy of sending first-time drunken drivers to jail, saying she is violating the defendants' constitutional rights and should be barred from hearing such cases.

In a motion filed Wednesday in 48th District Court in Bloomfield Township, attorney Robert Larin and professor Kenneth Mogill argued that Small violates the constitutional rights of defendants by sentencing almost all first-time drunken drivers to jail, often for weeks.

Small, the motion says, is legislating from the bench and is creating mandatory jail time when Michigan law does not require it.  Larin and Mogill argue that she should disqualify herself from hearing the cases because she has made public statements showing what they say is a deep bias on drunken-driving cases.

The motion is filed on behalf of one of Larin's clients, Thomas Cygan, a 67-year-old West Bloomfield man who was recently arrested for the first time on charges of operating while intoxicated.  The case is assigned to Small....

Experts said the motion creates an interesting legal question.  "There are arguments on both sides," said University of Michigan law professor Eve Brensike Primus.  "If a judge is willing to impose a sentence within the statutory limits, then perhaps that is within the judge's province, but if they are compromising fundamental fairness and individual sentencing, that can become problematic."

Larin said he filed the motion "on behalf of anybody charged with a first offense at present, in the past, or in the future." "I have nothing against Judge Small, but it is time this matter is resolved in the courts," he said.

Small's sentencing practices received national attention in recent weeks. On July 27, she sentenced former NBA basketball player Jalen Rose to 20 days in the Oakland County Jail following his arrest in March.  He is expected to be released Aug. 18.

A Free Press review last month of drunken-driving sentences in metro Detroit and nationwide found Small exceeds most judges when sentencing first-time offenders. "We have to decide if we're going to get serious about this or not," she told the Free Press for the article.  Under Michigan law, first-time drunken driving is a maximum 93-day misdemeanor, but there is no minimum mandatory jail time.

The motion filed by Larin and Mogill first will be heard by Small.  If she denies it, they will argue it before Marc Barron, chief judge of the district court.  If he also denies it, the case goes to circuit court and can be appealed to the court of appeals and then to the state Supreme Court.

Defense attorney Steve Fishman, who has handled a variety of high-profile cases in metro Detroit, said he supports the motion.  "The purpose of sentencing is not to send a message to anybody, it's to judge the facts and circumstances of each individual and impose a sentence that is proportional and appropriate," he said.

Others support Small's tough stance on drunken driving.  "Those charged with this offense are a serious threat to the public," Paul Walton, Oakland County's chief assistant prosecutor, told the Free Press.

Because drunk driving consistently results in more death, injuries and property damage than any other single crime, I am a supporter and fan of those who wish to ensure DUI punishments are both tough and effective.  In prior debates over this issue on this blog, many have asserted that jail time is not an effective sanction, though I am not sure if there is data to support this assertion.  I do know that ignition locks have proven effective to reduce repeat drunk driving, and I hope the attention being given to this one judge's DUI sentencing tendency might result in greater attention being given to this useful form of technocorrections.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

August 13, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Should a prison sentence necessarily halt all access to all social media for all purposes?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent AP piece, which is headlined "Calif. says Facebook will remove inmates' pages" and reports these developments:

Facebook has agreed to work with law enforcement agencies nationwide to remove accounts set up by inmates or posted on their behalf, in part because prisoners are using the social networking site to stalk victims and direct criminal activity, California prison officials said Monday.

It's the latest effort to combat a problem that has grown with the advent of smart phones and social networking sites. Last year a convicted child molester used a cell phone smuggled into prison to search his victim's Facebook and MySpace web pages, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in announcing the agreement with Facebook. The inmate then sent sketches to the 17-year-old victim's home....

"Victims who fought hard to put their offenders behind bars are being re-victimized," said department spokeswoman Dana Toyama.  "It's evolving as Facebook has become a huge social networking site and a place for gang members to talk and coordinate inside and outside prison.  This is just one example of what they can do."

Inmates are permitted to retain Facebook profiles that were created before they went to prison, according to the department.  But Facebook will disable the account if it is used while the inmate is behind bars.  Prison officials said the problem has grown worse because of the growth in smuggled cell phones.  Six years ago the department confiscated 261 devices, compared to 10,760 last year and 7,284 in the first half of this year.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said prison officials' best response is to keep smart phones and other Internet devices out of prisons.  "We will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside," he said in an e-mailed statement.  "We will also take appropriate action against anyone who misuses Facebook to threaten or harass."

Noyes said Facebook has been cooperating with law enforcement for some time whenever it is notified of problems, but Toyama said California had previously asked Facebook to remove inmates' pages without success.  "We've really only been successful in taking down one account so far.  After this, we're looking to be able to do this more," Toyama said.

She said the Federal Bureau of Prisons first announced Monday that Facebook had agreed to take down any account that prison officials can confirm has been updated while an inmate is in prison.  The bureau's National Gang Intelligence Center also reported a growing problem of inmates with active Facebook accounts, Toyama said, but she could not provide a copy of the report because it is a confidential law enforcement bulletin.

I understand the many ways some prisoners might use social media like Facebook to do harm, but I also suspect many prisoners might much rather use social media (instead of, say, letters or phone calls or even emails) to keep family and friends updated on how they are doing while they serve their sentence.  And I read this article to suggest that even an update to a prisoner's Facebook page done by someone on the outside could lead to a social media "takedown."

These realities, combined with the fact that nearly 2.5 million persons are behind bars in the United States, perhaps suggests the next social-media opportunity.  Perhaps a clever programmer can and should develop a form of Facebook that is uniquely structured and regulated for use (and only proper usage) by persons who are incarcerated.  If well-developed in consultation with prison officials and experts in corrections policies and practices, this new form of social media (dare I call it FelonSpace?) perhaps could provide prisoners and their family and friends with social media benefits without the risk of harmful misuse.

August 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, August 01, 2011

Seeking reviews for apps/programs that help calculate federal guideline ranges

This new Forbes blog entry, headlined "How Much Prison Time? -- There’s an App For That," has me wondering about whether federal practitioners use and benefit from any programs that help guestimate guideline sentencing ranges. Here is a snippet from the Forbes posting on this topic:

The federal U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines calculator was developed by an innovative lawyer who was looking to develop a tool to help lawyers do the calculation for their clients. The calculator covers crimes ranging from Alien Smuggling to Wire Fraud. I told the developer, who wished to not be named here, that he needed to add “Securities Fraud”, which was missing from the menu, to the selection of crimes as it has become more popular. He told me that a good substitute for Securities Fraud was to use Wire Fraud in the calculation….good to know. Besides being available on line, there is a mobile version of the prison calculator that is easier to see on your smart phone, www.sentencing.us/m. I am sure this version could be helpful in case you’re on the run and need to find out what enhancement (more months in prison) there might be for being a fugitive.

The developer cautions that this is a professional tool, though it is available to anyone. It is meant to be used by lawyers or professionals as an estimating tool.   Again, it is only a guide.  After all, the judge can sentence someone outside the guidelines.

Once on the site and you determine that you might be looking at some serious time, there is a link to connect you with a lawyer.   You just click on a state and get information that can put you in touch with a defense counsel.   No running around and going through the embarrassment of asking people, “I have a friend who needs a lawyer, you know one?”   You can do all this in the privacy of your home.  Technology is a wonderful thing.

I agree, of course, that technology is a wonderful thing, but I have not tried this particular guideline calculator nor tried to do guideline math with the help of a computer program.  But I suspect others have, and I would be grateful to get some recommendations or reviews in the comments.

August 1, 2011 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, July 18, 2011

Perhaps the new Google+ service should promise to keep probation officers out

The silly (tech-savvy?) title of this post is prompted in part by the new Google+ service seeking to complete with Facebook, along with this lengthy effective piece from the Louisville Courier-Journal which is headlined "Busted by Facebook: Some on probation learn the hard way that online posts can backfire." Here are excerpts from the piece:

If you don't want to do the time, stay offline. Or at the very least, don't “friend” your probation officer.

Convicted of possessing methamphetamine and Ecstasy, Scott W. Roby learned that the hard way. The Louisville man had his probation revoked this month — and was sentenced to two years in prison — in part for violating conditions that required him to stay alcohol-free and out of bars and liquor stores.

Roby had invited his probation officer to be his friend on Facebook, then Roby posted pictures of himself drinking — including one in which he was holding a beer while posed next to “Buddy Bat,” the mascot for the Louisville Bats, said prosecutor Dinah Koehler. In another Facebook post, according to court records, Roby asked: “Anyone wanna go get smashed tonight one last time before the end of the Earth?”

Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the Kentucky Department of Corrections say that with increasing regularity, offenders on probation are losing their freedom or incurring other sanctions after posting pictures online of themselves clubbing, using “beer bongs,” posing with firearms or bragging about out-of-town trips they've made without their probation officer's permission....

Kentucky is not the only place where offenders are getting kicked off probation for implicating themselves online.

In Connecticut, according to press accounts, a woman convicted of killing a teenager while driving drunk had three years added to her sentence in 2009, in part because she was shown posing with alcohol in virtually every picture on her Facebook page — “worshipping at the altar of alcohol, debauchery and lewd behavior,” a prosecutor said.

The ABA Journal recently reported that the first thing some criminal-defense lawyers tell clients now is to shut down their Facebook accounts....

Civil libertarians seem to have no problem with corrections officials monitoring social- media sites. “To the extent individuals voluntarily post information on social-networking sites that are accessible to others, the use of that information to establish a violation of probation or parole is likely to withstand any claims of invasion of privacy by the poster,” Bill Sharp, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in an email.

He added, however, that courts must be careful to verify the defendant really was the poster. He cited a recent decision in which the Maryland Supreme Court held that a judge improperly admitted information from a social-networking site where the only evidence that the page belonged to a witness was that it contained his birth date and photograph.

July 18, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, July 15, 2011

"12-Year-Old Sentenced for Cyberstalking Classmate"

The title of this post is the headline of this ABC News piece reporting on a case showing that some kids today are now getting their cyber-criminal careers started very early.  Here is the start of the piece:

A 12-year-old Washington girl was sentenced on Wednesday to probation and community service for a cyberstalking incident in which she and another 11-year-old girl doctored a classmate's Facebook account with explicit photos and solicitations for sex.

But the mother of the victim, also 12, said she has "mixed feelings" about the sentencing of the girls who hacked her daughter's Facebook page, and she isn't satisfied with the judge's ruling. "We wrote a letter to the judge and we requested that she have no access to social media for the full term of her probation. The judge felt that it would be fine for her to be on with parental supervision," said Tara Cote, of Issaquah, Wash.

The 12-year-old, who pleaded guilty and whose name has not been released, was charged with Cyberstalking and Computer Trespass First Degree. She was sentenced to six months of probation and 20 hours of community service, along with mandatory adult supervision of all computer usage, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Cote said she wants the tween to have cyber bullying-specific therapy. "Both girls went online and used social media to do damage and used it as a weapon? Regular therapy will not tell you how to not abuse the Internet," said Cote.

In my view, these kind of modern technology crimes call out for a kind of modern technology shaming sanction: perhaps judges can and should be able to require defendants in these kinds of cases (at least when they are adults) to have some kind of scarlet mark on their social media pages so that others know they do not play nice with technology.

July 15, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Seattle courts to trade jail for ankle bracelets"

The title of this post is the headline of this local report on a notable technocorrections development in the pacific northwest.  Here is how the piece starts:

Alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets, the unflattering fashion accessory worn by troubled actress Lindsay Lohan and a growing number of DUI offenders in Washington state, are coming to Seattle.

Seattle Municipal Court plans to begin using the bracelets to keep tabs on drunken-driving defendants.  The bracelets, which test alcohol exuded from a person's skin, are viewed as a cost-effective way to monitor the behavior of those convicted of drunken driving or awaiting trial on DUI charges.

Proponents, including a growing number of state judges, say they're cheaper than making offenders sit in jail.  "We were looking for ways to not put people in jail because of the continuing high cost of doing so," said Judge Brett Buckley of Thurston County District Court, which uses the bracelets.  "Our jails are overcrowded.  I'm sure Seattle's and King County's are the same."

The bracelets often are worn by defendants out of jail awaiting trial, and for those convicted of DUI and placed on probation.  Seattle Municipal Court Judges Steve Rosen and Ed McKenna say the court plans to use the bracelets in misdemeanor drunken-driving cases.

May 11, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Breaking news on state killing: there is now an app for that!

DPIC app I received via e-mail yesterday this notable news from the Death Penalty Information Center about being able to follow the death penalty while "on the go": 

The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new mobile application for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  This FREE application provides access to the most frequently used resources on DPIC's main website, including our Fact Sheet on the Death Penalty, our Execution Database, and the most recent death penalty news from around the country.  Click here to download the mobile application through iTunes. 

Users may also download the mobile application directly from the App Store on their mobile device by searching for "DPIC" or "Death Penalty Information Center."  Please let us know if you’d like us to add other resources.

This new post from the folks at the Houston Press, headlined "Death Penalty: Your Newest App," provides a fittingly cheeky review and follow-up on this latest new media development:

Have your Angry Birds gone postal?  You might need the newest app, from the Death Penalty Information Center....

DPIC is also asking people if they'd like other resources added to the app.

A last meals database?

A countdown clock for attorneys trying to file paperwork with Sharon Keller?

Up-to-date availability and pricing information on hard-to-get euthanizing drugs?

Let them know.

Though I am inclined to poke fun at the development of DPIC's app, I am also eager to seriously urge other leading resources on crime and punishment to consider the opportunity for using new media for information dissemination.  I really would love to see the US Sentencing Commission develop a sophisticated app to enable researchers and practitioners with easy and ready access to federal sentencing data.  Similarly, it would be great to have an app that assembles, organizes and effectively presents crime rates, recidivism statistics and corrections data for various jurisdictions.

February 24, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kansas considering getting tougher on repeat drunk drivers

This new piece from the Kansas City Star, which is headlined "Kansas considers sending repeat drunken drivers to prison," showcases my concern with state laws that are unduly lenient on drunk driving and also the appeal of technocorrections in this arena.  Here are excerpts:

Some Kansas lawmakers want to send repeat DUI offenders to prison, but that won’t be easy with the state’s budget problems and prisons that already are overcrowded.

Under newly proposed legislation, a fourth drunken driving conviction would mean prison time.  Currently a year in county jail — not state prison — is the longest sentence regardless of whether an offender has four convictions or 40....

Not everyone thinks the state can afford the changes.  Men’s prisons are already overcrowded, and Kansas struggles to fund education and basic services.  Under the bill, a fourth DUI would carry a prison sentence of as much as 17 months.  That would increase to as much as 34 months for a 10th conviction....

Among other changes Kansas legislators are considering [includes] first offenders [having] to get ignition interlock devices on their vehicles — and pay for it....

Frank Harris, state legislative affairs manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said requiring interlocks for even first-time drunken drivers is probably the most important change and would cost the state nothing. It also would be part of a spreading approach, he said. In 2005, only New Mexico did that and now 13 states do, he said. Such legislation failed last year in Missouri.

Meanwhile, statistics continue to tell a story.  In 2009, four in 10 fatality traffic accidents in Kansas involved drunken driving, as did more than three in 10 in Missouri.  Harris noted that Kansas was one of the few states that year that saw an increase in drunken driving fatalities — up to 154 from 138 the year before.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

January 18, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, December 17, 2010

A mere six-month jail sentence for 19th drunk driving conviction?!?!?

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "19th DUI gets Santa Rosa man 6-month sentence," an inclination to treat drunk drivers leniently can continue even well after a defendant has more than a dozen convictions for this dangerous behavior.  Here are the notable details (which actually highlight for me why technology rather than longer prison terms should be the focal point of reducing the dangers and harms of drunk driving):

A Santa Rosa man with 19 drunken driving convictions was spared a prison term Thursday for his latest offense, prompting an outcry from prosecutors.

William Rylan Beall, 65, whose record of drunken driving stretches back 44 years, was sentenced to six months in jail by visiting Alameda County Judge Julie Conger. But he could end up serving it in an alcohol treatment facility if bed space becomes available.

That he will be free until Jan. 21 and was not given a prison sentence provoked an angry reaction from Sonoma County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bill Brockley. “It’s putting our community at risk. He’s proven he’s a danger and can’t conform his behavior to societal norms,” Brockley said. “He can’t stop drinking and when he drinks, he drives. He puts your family, my family, and all families at risk.”

Prosecutors had sought a two-year prison term as recommended by the county probation department.... In recommending the mid-term prison sentence, the probation department took into account Beall’s clean record for the past eight years.

Until his latest drunken driving offense in July, Beall, a real estate agent who lives in Oakmont, had stayed out of trouble since 2002. But his finances and health began to deteriorate and he relapsed, said his attorney, Steve Weiss. “He has been a strong participant in AA the last eight years,” said Weiss. “Unfortunately, he reverted to very old habits.”

“The judge focused on a number of things — the eight years he had been sober, his health and the best way to protect the community, which she felt was to keep him on probation for five years — keep him under close supervision and give him a six-month residential treatment program to sharpen his sobriety skills.”...

Beall’s record of alcohol-related driving convictions began in 1966, according to a pre-sentencing report. He was convicted of drunken driving seven times in the 1970s, five times in the 1980s, four times in the 1990s and again in 2002, prior to his most recent conviction.

Three of the convictions involved traffic collisions. In one case, he was seen running a red light at approximately 50 to 60 miles per hour. “It is extraordinarily fortunate the defendant has never seriously injured anyone or taken a life, given his disregard for the law and the well-being of others,” Deputy Probation Officer Sierra Grohl wrote in her report.

Beall was given probation six times, required to attend frequent AA meetings and comply with Antabuse drug therapy, but he continued to drink and drive. He was sent to prison for two years in 1998.

In addition to his 19 prior drunken driving convictions, there were six additional arrests that did not lead to convictions, according to the pre-sentencing report. His blood alcohol in 2002 registered .22, almost three times the level at which a person is presumed too drunk to drive.... The probation officer noted “it is plausible he truly was sober the past eight years or he would have likely appeared before the court much sooner.”

Weiss noted that early on the district attorney’s office had offered his client a 16-month jail term and with good behavior, he could have been out in half that time.  But Brockley said Beall rejected the offer and another judge refused to consider a non-prison sentence. “A person with this type of alcohol history and arrest record should be going back to state prison,” Brockley said.

Though I generally agree with the prosecutor's view here that such an extended criminal history justifies another trip to state prison, I also think this case spotlights the need to use ignition-locks and other forms of technology to try to prevent chronic offenders from ever being able to start a car with any alcohol in their system.

December 17, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, December 13, 2010

Supreme Court Justices are now doing reading on iPads and Kindles, when will law students?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new video from a portion of a C-SPAN interview with new Justice Elena Kagan. The video is titled "Justice Kagan on Using a Kindle to Read Briefs," and in the segment Justice Kagan reports on how she uses the Kindle to read all the SCOTUS briefs, and also discusses that Justice Scalia has his briefs on an iPad. (Hat tip: How Appealing.)

In a series of posts about technology and legal education over at the blog Law School Innovation (where I am cross-posting this post), I have suggested that the advancement of new reading technologies will at some point transform legal education. I articulated the point this way in this post after first seeing the iPad in action earlier this year:

[A] casebook-friendly e-tablet is only the tip of the new media iceberg that could be facilitated by an iPad or some other tablet that becomes to casebooks what the iPod became to vinyl records.  Of course, just as record companies (and some artists) resisted music being packaged and distributed via new media, casebook publishers (and some authors) may resist legal materials being packaged distributed via new media.  But, as the iPod and the DVR and other digital innovations have demonstrated, a better means to distribute content digitally will eventually prevail over analog precursors.  The iPad may not prove to be the casebook tipping-point technology, but it seems to me to be only a question of when, not whether, the traditional casebook will go the way of vinyl records and VCR tapes.

When traveling to speak at various conferences, I have noticed more and more lawyers with iPads and other e-readers. I expect that buzz about the Justices reading briefs on e-readers might add even more juice to the on-going digital revolution in the collection and distribution of legal materials. And if law schools do not get with the program soon, I fear we will be doing even worse than usual in training the next generation of lawyers.

Though this post fits better at my Law School Innovation blog, I have cross-posted it here because I am eager to hear from practitioners about their use of technology (and whether there are any particular technologies that a criminal law professor ought to make the focus of more student instruction). In addition, I have to assume that it is only a matter of time before we have a federal sentencing guidelines app.

December 13, 2010 in On blogging, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Should an inmate be able to use Facebook?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this ABC News story which is headlined "Convicted Murderer Justin Walker Used a Blackberry to Talk to Friends on Facebook While in Prison."  Here is how it begins:

The mother of an Oklahoma man who was shot to death is furious that her son's killer was able to get a Blackberry in his cell and has been corresponding with friends and posting photos on Facebook.

Cathy Lawrence, the mother of slain Sheriff Dwight Woodrell Jr., told ABCNews.com that Justin Walker, the man serving a 30-year sentence for her son's murder, doesn't deserve to be alive, let alone to be updating his Facebook status.

December 2, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Courts videoconference defendants to save money"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting piece from today's USA Today.  Here are excerpts:

Everyone is entitled to his or her day in court, but a growing number of people get it without setting foot in a courtroom.  Courts across the country are embracing videoconferencing as a way for defendants to appear before a judge without leaving prison or jail, according to a recent survey by the National Center for State Courts.

As state and local governments continue to see their budgets squeezed, they are increasingly looking for ways to save money through technology, says Kannan Sreedhar, managing director of Verizon Connected Healthcare Solutions.  When his company demonstrated its Telejustice products at a meeting of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials in Houston in August, he says, he was stunned by the level of interest. "We were inundated with people who wanted to talk to us," Sreedhar says.

Sreedhar says the newer technology is based on Internet protocols offering higher resolution than previous generations, and it's easier to operate.  The newest wave: mobile video units that can be used in hospital rooms, mental health facilities and other venues to arraign people too sick to appear in court....

When the National Center for State Courts surveyed court systems in September, 100 of the 162 that responded were already using videoconferencing for some criminal matters, according to the study results published on the center's website.

Pennsylvania estimates it has saved $31 million, and Utah courts have reduced their transportation costs by one-third, according to the survey.  The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services began using videoconferencing earlier this year for inmates who appeal grievance hearings to a circuit court.  "We really think it's going to be a tremendous public-safety improvement and considerable cost savings," says spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

The criminal-justice section of the American Bar Association hasn't taken a formal position on videoconferencing for hearings such as arraignments but discourages it in trials, says spokeswoman Stephanie Ortbals-Tibbs.

As I have stated in a number of prior posts on related technological developments, the question is not whether new technologies with significantly change our criminal justice system, but rather when and how and by how much.

A few posts covering various tech issues:

November 22, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Ankle monitors: a high-demand accessory for minor criminals"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable and fascinating new article from today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Hat tip to the frequent must-read website The Crime Report.)  Here are excerpts:

Electronic monitoring devices, black anklets made of rubber and plastic, are not exactly coveted, but in Allegheny County they are certainly in high demand.  Last week, about 1,200 people were wearing the monitoring units, mostly used to enforce house arrest for those convicted in Common Pleas Court of minor criminal offenses.  Another 925 people were waiting for them.

The electronic monitoring waiting list started ballooning about a year ago, about the same time the court introduced a program to expedite minor cases. "It worked overly well," said Common Pleas Judge Beth A. Lazzara, one of two judges who hear cases through the program, called the Phoenix docket.  A backlog of cases poured through, about 4,000 since January, she estimated.

"What we're getting now is a bubble," said Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, administrative judge of the court's criminal division.... "We're doing our best to expedite everyone," said Frank Scherer, manager of the county's monitoring program, part of the Adult Probation Department.  The department tries to get an anklet to a new person the same day it is returned from someone else.

But the county owns only 1,200 of the devices, which cost about $2,500 each.  At any time, more than 2,000 people are required to wear them. "With that comes manpower issues," said Mr. Scherer.  "If we were able to get equipment for all 925 people, we'd have to hire probably three dozen more probation officers and get more monitors and computer equipment."

Across Pennsylvania, electronic monitoring waiting lists are not unheard of. Westmoreland County has a waiting list of 177 people, down from more than 200 last year.  Philadelphia County had a waiting list earlier this year with 73 names on it.  The list has since been eliminated.  "We bought more monitors," said court administrator David Lawrence. "Easy." Montgomery County usually has a waiting list with five or six people on it....

Allegheny County's list is long partly because the county often leads the state in arrests for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In 2009, 5,208 people were arrested on DUI charges here, compared with 4,748 in Philadelphia County, said Catherine Tress, director of the Pennsylvania DUI Association's Western Pennsylvania office....

Allegheny County needs house arrest, said Judge Manning. The punishment is an alternative to a jail sentence, and without it, following mandatory minimum sentencing requirements would inundate the county jail.  "And there is no room without building a bigger jail facility," Judge Manning said.

The anklets Allegheny County uses are not GPS-enabled.  But they do allow the probation department to monitor the comings and goings of an offender, comparing their movement to the times they are permitted out.  The probation department enters into a computer a range of times when the offender is permitted out, such as for work, drug and alcohol treatment, church services or medical appointments.

The department places a receiver in the offender's house.  When the offender is within a certain range of it, the receiver emits a signal.  When the person is out of range, the signal stops.  Employees at a monitoring center staffed 24 hours a day watch a central screen and notify officials if the signal stops. Then, probation officers can be sent out.

High-risk offenders and pre-trial defendants -- placed on house arrest while their cases move through the court -- are typically given an anklet within a few days.  Jail inmates waiting to be released to house arrest must be given anklets within 72 hours.  But the majority of people sentenced to electronic monitoring are low-risk offenders charged with crimes such as driving under the influence, drug possession or retail theft. They wait.

Especially with tighter budgets and perhaps growing public safety concerns in the months and years to come, these stories are likely to get more common. But, as I have said before and will say again, as long as technocorrections seems to aid public safety at a lower cost than traditional incarceration, this is sure to remain a growth industry.

November 7, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Elderly, Ill Sex Offender Sues Perry Over Monitor"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting and effective new piece from the Texas Tribune reporting on interesting technocorrections developments and litigation in the Lone Star State.  Here are the particulars:

Sixty-one-year-old Marvin Brown has had three mini-strokes in the last two months. He has diabetes, stage-four renal disease and congestive heart failure.  On good days, he walks with a cane.  Other times, he gets around with a walker or an electric wheelchair.

But according to Gov. Rick Perry, Brown is among the most dangerous sex offenders in Texas.  Perry has ordered that Brown and other registered sex offenders who were previously released from continuous monitoring must now be monitored again with ankle bracelets.  Brown, who was convicted in 1985 of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and of indecency with a 16-year-old boy, says forcing him to wear the ankle monitor not only puts his fragile health at risk — it's also a violation of his civil rights.  On Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to keep the state from putting him back on the monitor. “They can’t give you freedom and then take it away,” Brown says.

Last month, Perry announced a raft of new measures to crack down on what he called “the most dangerous sex offenders.”  Among other things, Perry said he would designate $1.7 million in federal grant money to help the Texas Department of Criminal Justice use technology to monitor high-risk sex offenders on parole.  “These initiatives will provide greater protections to our citizens by taking our efforts in dealing with sex offenders up yet another notch,” Perry said in a press release.

Since that announcement, 153 parolees have been returned to active electronic monitoring, says Michelle Lyons, a criminal justice department spokeswoman.  All the parolees who have received ankle bracelets, she says, were previously on a passive monitoring system that logged their daily whereabouts and created a report for parole officers.  Ankle bracelets, she says, allow for real-time monitoring to ensure sex offenders aren’t going near playgrounds or other areas where children congregate.  With the grant money, the department could put ankle bracelets on as many as 600 high-risk sex offenders.

Brown found out about Perry’s new crackdown efforts a couple of weeks ago, when his parole offic er told him he was on the list of sex offenders to be put back on active monitoring. Brown served 14 years of his 40-year sentence in the criminal justice department before he was paroled in 1999 and placed on intensive supervision, which required him to wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS monitor.  In 2007, the Board of Pardons and Paroles took Brown off intensive supervision and removed the monitor.  With the monitor off, Brown says, he could lead a somewhat normal life — shopping, making friends, eating out with family and attending church without an ominous-looking briefcase that carried a beeping device.

He could also deal more easily with his health problems, going to the doctor’s office and taking emergency trips to the hospital when necessary.  Brown, who lives alone, had a life alert-like system installed at his house so that he could use the telephone to update nurses at the hospital with his vital statistics and so that he could get quick help in case he had another stroke or heart attack and couldn’t reach the phone.  The ankle bracelet, he says, will interfere with the system, and he worries that without it he could die.  “If you have a stroke or a heart attack and nobody finds you until the next day, it’s too late,” he says...

In the lawsuit, he alleges that the state is violating his constitutional right to due process by forcing him back on the ankle monitor without justification or a legal hearing on the matter.  “It’s a public embarrassment,” Brown says.  “I don’t know how I’d be able to attend church.”...

Attorney Bill Habern has defended parolees and sex offenders like Brown for decades.  He says he sympathizes with Brown but believes his lawsuit is probably doomed.  The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — in a case Habern defended and is appealing — ruled that once a person is a convicted sex offender, the state can impose conditions it sees fit to protect the public....

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor, says the move to increase sex offender monitoring was not politically motivated but was intended to provide greater public protection from sexual predators.  Lyons, the criminal justice department spokeswoman, says she can't comment on pending litigation but maintains that the ankle monitors are designed for those who are considered at high risk for reoffending.  “I can't see how having more supervision wouldn’t add to public safety,” she says.

October 27, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, October 11, 2010

New blog examining the "intersection between criminal law and emerging technology"

I am pleased to learn about this new blog, intriguingly named "Stockycat," which is "focused non-exclusively on the intersection between criminal law and emerging technology" and says it is "[d]edicated to the idea that effective law enforcement is not incompatible with a vigorous interpretation of the Fourth Amendment."

Among the many notable features of this new blog that makes it worth watching is the public policy AND government lawyer AND prosecutorial background of its author, Joshua Engel.  Here is how the author describes his background on this blog:

I am a Fellow with the Ohio State Bar Foundation. In addition, I have been honored as a recipient of a Harry S Truman Scholarship for Public Service.  I recently served as Chief Legal Counsel for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Prior to joining the Department of Public Safety, I was one of the most respected and successful felony prosecutors in Ohio.  In 2007, my work as a prosecutor was recognized by a Meritorious Service Award from the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

I began my career as a prosecutor by serving under current Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.  I started my legal career at Choate, Hall & Stewart, a large Boston law firm. 

Though the blog seems focused at the start on Fourth Amendment issues, I am hopeful that we will before long see posts about GPS tracking of released offenders and/or internet restrictions as a form of punishment and/or restitution as a punishment simply for downloading child porn and/or any of the many other sentencing law and policy issues that arise at the "intersection between criminal law and emerging technology."

October 11, 2010 in On blogging, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Assailing too-broad internet bans as part of a sentence

The National Law Journal has this notable new commentary headlined "Banned from the Internet: Prohibiting a defendant on probation from conducting any business online is overly restrictive and not reasonably related to legitimate sentencing goals."  The piece is authored by A. Jeff Ifrah and Steven Eichorn, and here are excerpts:

Given the pervasiveness of the Internet, it is curious to us that some courts have been all too willing to prohibit Internet use for defendants on probation or supervised release. Are such Internet bans narrowly tailored to affect "only such deprivations of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary," a statutory factor in the conditions of release issued by a judge? Recent cases suggest the answer is no.

Internet bans are most commonly issued by courts as a condition of probation in child pornography cases in which the defendants may have utilized the Internet as a tool to lure their victims.  But even when the courts have permitted Internet bans in such cases, they have often noted the harshness of a complete ban and have listed numerous factors to consider before imposing a ban, such as whether it "is narrowly tailored to impose no greater restriction than necessary," the "availability of filtering software that could allow [the defendant's] Internet activity to be monitored and/or restricted" and the duration of the ban....

Given the limitations imposed in child-pornography cases, the growing number of Internet bans in white-collar cases raises our eyebrows.  Is an Internet ban appropriate for a defendant who used the Internet to perpetrate a fraud like a telemarketing scheme or investment fraud?...

Clearly, courts would not apply a complete ban on conducting business for a defendant who operated many fraudulent brick-and-mortar companies with separate storefronts.  Courts readily understand that banning a defendant from conducting any further business is not reasonably related to legitimate sentencing goals and is much more restrictive than necessary. So why are courts willing to place a complete ban on Internet business for defendants who use the Internet to conduct their business and bar them from "the town square for the global village of tomorrow?" And why are courts handing down more restrictive Internet bans in white-collar cases than those handed out in Internet child pornography cases?

The answer may be related to some judges' lack of appreciation of the importance of the Internet in today's society.  We hope that, as online commerce becomes universally perceived as being as routine as business conducted in a brick-and-mortar store, courts will be careful to ensure that this critical form of communication with customers is not restricted in the absence of compelling circumstances.  Anything less would clearly constitute "deprivations of liberty or property" that are far from "reasonably necessary."

October 10, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack