Saturday, May 15, 2021

After historic hiatus, state execution plans and practices back in the news

A lengthy break in state executions has been one of many notable impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on criminal justice systems.  Indeed, as this Death Penalty Information Center analysis explains, the United States is in the midst of "the longest period in 40 years without any state carrying out an execution." (Of course, as DPIC also notes, at the federal level, the Trump administration during this period launched "the longest and most sustained execution spree in the modern history of the U.S. death penalty [as it] carried out 13 consecutive executions between July 14, 2020 and January 16, 2021, the most consecutive executions by any jurisdiction since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in the 1970.")

After an historic hiatus, there are now serious execution dates scheduled over the next few weeks in Texas (May 19 for Quintin Jones) and Idaho (June 2 for Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr.).  And it seems that a few other states are also growing eager to get their death machinery back into operation.  Consequentially, as detailed by the links and headlines below, state capital punishment practices are again generating news:

From the AP, "Idaho death row inmate asks Supreme Court to stop execution"

From the AP, "Nebraska death sentences continue despite not having execution drugs"

From CBS News, "Quintin Jones is on death row for killing his great-aunt. The victim's sister is pleading for clemency."

From Fox News, "South Carolina to bring back firing squads for executions"

From The Marshall Project, "They Are Terminally Ill. States Want To Execute Them Anyway."

From NBC News, "Rush of Arkansas executions that included Ledell Lee's comes under renewed scrutiny"

May 15, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"That is Enough Punishment: Situating Defunding the Police within Antiracist Sentencing Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN authored by Jalila Jefferson-Bullock and Jelani Jefferson Exum. Here is its abstract:

During the summer of 2020, the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others created a movement that unearthed a reality that Black people in the United States have always been aware of: systemic racism, in the form of police brutality, is alive and well. While the blatant brutality of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police is the flame, the spark was ignited long ago.  One need only review the record of recent years — the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Antwon Rose, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and countless other souls have led to this particular season of widespread protests and organized demands for change.  As the focus turns from necessary protest to tangible progress, what remains unanswered is how best to proceed.  Professor Ibram X. Kendi described antiracism as “a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.”  One such “radical choice” is defunding the police.

Although the long-held belief in police “super powers” is crumbling, the majority of Americans do not support wholesale defunding and instead advocate for specific reforms; 35% of participants in a 2020 Pew study recorded that the police use the correct amount of force in every situation, compared to 45% in 2016.  Likewise, the share of people who believe police treat racial and ethnic groups equally dropped from 47% in 2016 to 34% in 2020, and the share of those who thought the justice system should hold officers accountable when misconduct occurs rose to 44% in 2020, compared to 31% in 2016. A 2018 poll found that two-thirds of people in the United States support banning chokeholds.  Most Americans do support disciplining police misconduct and lessening protections against legal action.  Seventy-four percent of Americans believe that police violence against the public is a problem, and 42% believe it is a major problem. Nevertheless, only 25% of Americans endorse decreased spending on police forces. In many ways, polling reveals a public misunderstanding of what defunding the police actually means.  Polls indicate that people balk at the term “defund the police” but appear more open if directly asked if they support shifting money allocated to police toward specific social services.  This Article argues that discomfort with defunding the police is misplaced.

Understanding policing as a form of punishment clarifies how reforming policing — including defunding the police — fits within the broader, more widely accepted sentencing reforms that have taken place in recent years.  The Supreme Court has refused to recognize policing as punishment, and several scholars have commented on the Court’s failure to do so. Adding to this conversation, this Article asserts that policing is punishment and demonstrates that policing reform is rightly situated within discussions of overall sentencing reform.  Sentencing reform supported on both sides of the political aisle recognizes that jurisdictions have spent money on incarceration but have not actually accomplished punishment goals.  When resources are re-directed to support legitimate punitive goals better, then not only are resources saved but also systemic racism can be addressed.  As it stands, purposeless punishment only serves to support institutional bias.  The same is true for retaining the current system of policing.  Once one understands that the current policing model in the United States facilitates purposeless punishment, its only remaining plausible objective is to sustain a system of racial oppression.  To truly begin eradicating racism in policing, it is imperative to place policing reform in the broader context of sentencing reform and begin approaching all forms of punishment with an antiracist lens.

May 15, 2021 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 14, 2021

Split Mississippi appellate court upholds, against Eighth Amendment challenge, an LWOP habitual-offender sentence for marijuana possession

As report in this AP piece, the "Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a life sentence for a man convicted of a marijuana possession charge because he had previous convictions and those made him a habitual offender." Here is bit more about the ruling from the AP:

Allen Russell, 38, was sentenced to life in Forrest County in 2019 after a jury found him guilty of possession of more than 30 grams (1.05 ounces) of marijuana.

In Mississippi, a person can be sentenced to life without parole after serving at least one year in prison on two separate felonies, one of which must be a violent offense. Russell was convicted on two home burglaries in 2004 and for unlawful possession of a firearm in 2015. By law, burglary is a violent offense in Mississippi, whether or not there is proof that violence occurred. That was not the case when Russell was sentenced for home burglary in 2004. Then, burglary was only considered a violent crime if there was proof of violence. The law changed in 2014.

In his appeal, Russell argued that a life sentence constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate” to his crime of marijuana possession. The Court of Appeals disagreed in its majority opinion, stating that Russell’s life sentence is in accordance with Mississippi law. Russell is not being sentenced solely for having marijuana, but for being a habitual offender, the judges said.

But several dissenting judges argued that the court can — and should — make exceptions. “The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society,” Judge Latrice Westbrooks wrote. “The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal.”

The full opinions in Russell v. Mississippi, NO. 2019-KA-01670-COA (Miss. Ct. App. May 11, 2021), are available here.  Here is the start and another part of the majority opinion:

A Forrest County jury found Allen Russell guilty of possession of marijuana in an amount greater than 30 grams but less than 250 grams. The Forrest County Circuit Court sentenced Russell as a violent habitual offender under Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-83 (Rev. 2015) to life imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) without eligibility for probation or parole. On appeal from the circuit court’s judgment, Russell argues that his sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate to his felony conviction. Finding no error, we affirm....

Here, the State’s evidence established that Russell had two prior separate felony convictions for burglary of a dwelling, for which he was sentenced to and served over one year in MDOC’s custody on each conviction.  The State also presented evidence that Russell was later convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon and sentenced to ten years with eight years suspended and two years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision.  Based on such evidence, the circuit court justifiably found Russell to be a violent habitual offender under section 99-19-83 and sentenced him to life imprisonment in MDOC’s custody without eligibility for probation or parole.  Because Russell has failed to prove the threshold requirement of gross disproportionality, and because his habitual-offender sentence fell within the statutory guidelines, we conclude that his sentence constituted “a constitutionally permissible punishment for his most recent crime . . . .” Miller, 225 So. 3d at 16 (¶17). We therefore find this issue lacks merit.

One of the dissents begins this way:

In Solem v. Helm, 466 U.S. 277 (1983), the United States Supreme Court held that a life without parole sentence for a recidivist criminal convicted of a relatively low-level felony violated the Eighth Amendment. In terms of the gravity of his present offense and the extent and seriousness of his criminal history, I cannot draw any material distinction between Allen Russell and the defendant in Solem. Thus, I conclude that we are bound under Solem to vacate Russell’s life without parole sentence. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent

Because I was stunned to see an LWOP sentence for marijuana possession and due to the description in the opinion concerning how the defendant was found in possession of marijuana, I did a little bit of extra research about Allen Russell.  Though not mentioned in this appellate ruling, this local article from late 2017 reports that Russell was being arrested on murder charges at the time he was found to be in possession of marijuana.  Though I could find no report of Russell being convicted of (or even tried on) a homicide charge, I am inclined to suspect that this background may have played at least some role in how Russell was initially charged by prosecutors and ultimately sentenced for his marijuana possession.

I presume that this case will now be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court and perhaps the US Supreme Court if the Mississippi courts continuing to uphold this extreme sentence. I would think that, if the Eighth Amendment is to place any limit at all the length of prison sentences imposed on adult offenders, an LWOP sentence for possessing a small amount of marijuana ought to be subject to very serious scrutiny.  And yet, SCOTUS has a history of upholding extreme recidivism-based sentences (Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), being the most recent example), and so the past and present work of the Supreme Court in this arena should not provide much basis for Russell to be especially optimistic regarding further appeals.

May 14, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Mass Incarceration Retards Racial Integration"

The title of this post is the title of this recent working paper authored by Peter Temin for the Institute for New Economic
Thinking.  Here is its abstract:

President Nixon replaced President Johnson’s War on Poverty with his War on Drugs in 1971.  This new drug war was expanded by President Reagan and others to create mass incarceration.  The United States currently has a higher percentage of its citizens incarcerated than any other industrial country.  Although Blacks are only 13 percent of the population, they are 40 percent of the incarcerated.  The literatures on the causes and effects of mass incarceration are largely distinct, and I combine them to show the effects of mass incarceration on racial integration.  Racial prejudice produced mass incarceration, and mass incarceration now retards racial integration.

May 14, 2021 in Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

New UCLA Law Review special issue examines "Jailhouse Lawyering"

I was pleased to see this notable new UCLA Law Review special issue devoted to "Jailhouse Lawyering."  The issue's introduction is available at this link and here is the end of its overview:

In this series, authors with experience as jailhouse lawyers and journalists behind bars write about the legal issues and systems affecting incarcerated persons today.  They share stories shaped by litigation and legal research.  They make arguments rooted in both their lived experiences and an extensive knowledge of the law.  Each of these authors — and countless others — is a testament to the power and tradition of jailhouse lawyering.  We are proud to feature their work here and look forward to the day when they are acknowledged and respected for their immeasurable contributions to the field.

Here are the articles in this great-looking special issue:

Barriers to Jailhouse Lawyering by Rahsaan "New York" Thomas 

Broken Systems: Function by Design by Phal Sok 

Applying for Compassionate Release as a Pro Se Litigant by Lynn Reece

Insurgent Knowledge: Battling CDCR From Inside the System. The Story of the Essential Collaboration Between Jailhouse Lawyers and Appointed Counsel & Lessons for Resentencing Today by Stephen Liebb & Gina Cassar

Bound by Law, Freed by Solidarity: Navigating California Prisons and Universities as a Jailhouse Lawyer by Michael Saavedra

What You Didn’t Know About Adelanto Immigration Detention Center by Anna Solodovnikova

Challenging Gladiator Fights in the CDCR by Kevin McCarthy

To Act Like a Democracy by Juan Moreno Haines

Jailhouse Lawyering From the Beginning by Kevin D. Sawyer

Making Bricks Without Straw: Legal Training for Female Jailhouse Lawyers in the Louisiana Penal System by Robin Bunley

An Old Lawyer Learns New Tricks: A Memoir by James C. Bottomley

May 13, 2021 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper authored by Elizabeth Berger and Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.  Here is the paper's abstract:

In response to increasing concerns about jail and prison overcrowding, many officials and legislatures across the U.S. have undertaken different efforts aimed at reducing the prison population, such as reduced sentence lengths and early release of prisoners.  Thus, there is currently a high degree of public interest regarding how these changes in policy might affect recidivism rates of released offenders.  When considering the research on the relationship between incarceration and recidivism, many studies compare custodial with non-custodial sentences on recidivism, while fewer examine the impact of varying incarceration lengths on recidivism.  This article provides a review of the research on the latter.

While some findings suggest that longer sentences may provide additional deterrent benefit in the aggregate, this effect is not always consistent or strong.  In addition, many of the studies had null effects, while none of the studies suggested a strong aggregate-level criminogenic effect.  Overall, the literature on the impact of incarceration on recidivism is admittedly limited by important methodological considerations, resulting in inconsistency of findings across studies.  In addition, it appears that deterrent effects of incarceration may vary slightly for different offenders.  Ultimately, the effect of incarceration length on recidivism appears too heterogenous to be able to draw universal conclusions.  We argue that a deepened understanding of the causal mechanisms at play is needed to reliably and accurately inform policy.

May 13, 2021 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fascinating compassionate release ruling based on clear sentencing error without other means of remedy

Regular readers are likely familiar with many of my (pre-COVID) prior posts making much of the provision of the FIRST STEP Act allowing federal courts to directly reduce sentences under the (so-called compassionate release) statutory provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) without awaiting a motion by the Bureau of Prisons.  I have long considered this provision a big deal because, if applied appropriately and robustly, it could and should enable many hundreds (and perhaps many thousands) of federal prisoners to have excessive prison sentences reduced on a variety of grounds.  A helpful reader alerted me to an especially interesting example of the granting of a sentencing reduction in US v. Trenkler, Cr. No. 92-10369 (D. Mass. May 6, 2021) (available for download below).

Trenkler is a fascinating case and opinion for many reasons, and the discussion of the case particulars and compassionate release jurisprudence more generally make Trenkler a must-read for anyone working in this space.  Here are some small snippets from the start and heart of the 50+ page opinion to encourage downloads:

Defendant Alfred Trenkler is a sixty-five-year-old federal inmate serving a life sentence for convictions stemming from his role in an October 28, 1991 bombing in Roslindale, Massachusetts that killed one Boston Police Department Bomb Squad officer and maimed a second officer.  On November 29, 1993, a jury convicted Trenkler of illegal receipt and use of explosive materials and attempted malicious destruction of property by means of explosives, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 844(d), 844(i) (Counts 2 and 3), and conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1). See Jury Verdict, ECF No. 487. Trenkler is currently incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona (“USP Tucson”).  Defendant moves for compassionate release, asserting that extraordinary and compelling circumstances warrant his release based on (1) the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in light of his documented heart condition and the outbreak that has left at least 1009 inmates infected with COVID-19 over the past year at USP Tucson; and (2) what Trenkler characterizes as a series of miscarriages of justice that call into question his convictions and sentence....  The Court reduces Trenkler’s sentence to a term of 41 years, followed by a term of supervised release of 3 years... 

In addition to the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Trenkler urges the Court to reduce his sentence to time served in light of the “unique circumstances” surrounding his case.  Those unique circumstances, in Trenkler’s view, include questions surrounding his guilt and the fundamental unfairness of his conviction; the disproportionality of his sentence as compared to Shay, Jr.’s sentence; and his unlawfully imposed life sentence.

[Despite limits in AEDPA concerning habeas petitions,] now Congress has spoken again [via the FIRST STEP Act].  And this time it has given trial judges broad authority — indeed it has imposed a statutory duty, upon a defendant’s motion — to conduct an individualized review of the defendant’s case for extraordinary and compelling circumstances that call out for correction....  [A series of discussed] cases — and others like them — leave no question that this Court may conclude that a legal error at sentencing constitutes an extraordinary and compelling reason, and reduce the sentence after conducting an individualized review of the case....

Here, it is both extraordinary and compelling that (1) a judge sentenced a defendant to life imprisonment using a preponderance of the evidence standard where the controlling statute provided that a life sentence could be imposed only by the jury; and (2) there exists no available avenue for relief from this legal error.

Download Trenkler CR opinion

May 13, 2021 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Representing juvenile lifers: do attorneys in parole hearings matter?"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Stuti Kokkalera and just published online in the Journal of Crime and Justice.  Here is its abstract:

Courts and scholars have advocated for the right to legal representation in the parole process. The state examined in this study qualified that juvenile lifer parole candidates have the right to an attorney at their initial parole board hearing.  Data drawn from written decisions issued by the state parole board were analyzed to determine the association between having an attorney and type of legal representation on two parole outcomes: (1) whether a candidate was granted or denied parole, and (2) length of interval terms, that is, number of years that a candidate waits for another hearing.  While having an attorney at the hearing was not related to both outcomes, type of representation was associated with interval terms.  Hearings with appointed (non-retained) attorneys were associated with reduced odds of a maximum interval term, while having retained attorneys was related to higher odds of a maximum interval term.  Hence, state efforts to provide counsel are necessary since their presence is significantly associated with the ultimate time served by juvenile lifer candidates.  Findings support the need for more comparative research across states as well as the inclusion of other parole-eligible populations.

May 13, 2021 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Getting antsy for US Sentencing Commission appointments after another slate of impressive judicial nominees from Prez Biden

As detailed in this official press release, titled "President Biden Announces Third Slate of Judicial Nominees," Prez Biden announced a slate of six new judicial appointments ( three new Court of Appeals nominees and three new District Court nominees.  As detailed in this Reuters article, headlined "Biden latest judicial picks stress public defender work," the new Prez is fulfilling calls to add professional diversity to a federal judiciary now dominated by prosecutors and BigLaw lawyers (see prior posts here and here).  Here are some details:

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his latest wave of judicial nominees with six picks who not only reflect his goal of diversifying the federal bench but also include three current or former public defenders for appellate court seats.

The nominees include two attorneys currently with federal public defender offices, Eunice Lee for a seat on the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Veronica Rossman for a spot with the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

They also include Chief Judge Gustavo Gelpí Jr of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico for a spot on the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from three states plus the island territory.  If confirmed, Gelpi, who in the 1990s served as an assistant federal public defender, would be only the second Puerto Rican to serve on the court and would replace the first, Juan Torruella, who died in October.

Progressives and judicial reform proponents have long called for more judges on the federal bench with backgrounds as public defenders. More often, judges have tended former prosecutors or defense attorneys from major law firms.  "President Biden has made clear that the days of public defenders being systematically passed over for top jobs on the federal bench are over," Christopher Kang, the chief counsel of the progressive group Demand Justice, said in a statement.  He said no president has before nominated so many circuit judges with experience as public defenders. All five of Biden's nominations so far to the regional circuit courts have had such experience, and three spent the majority of the careers in such positions.

I will be excited to see if and how a group of new federal judges with public defender experience will have a long-term impact on criminal justice jurisprudence coming from the federal courts.  For those interested in short-term reform, however, perhaps it is even more important to see Prez Biden nominate a slate of diverse (and reform-minded) US Sentencing Commissioners. 

Back in February, I wrote a commentary, "Reviving the U.S. Sentencing Commission," which noted that the USSC has historically been dominated by persons with prosecutorial backgrounds; I also lamented that the USSC now needs six new confirmed members to get back to full strength and at least three new commissioners to even be somewhat functional.  At that time, I did not reasonably expect to see needed nomination to the US Sentencing Commission until at least some Circuit and District Judge nominees were put forward.  And, by late March, as reported in this post, there was seemingly serious talk of serious work on slate of nominees for the Sentencing Commission. 

But it is now mid May, and though Prez Biden has put forward 20 judicial nominations, we have still not yet heard anything more about getting the Sentencing Commission back to work.  So ...  color me antsy.

A few prior recent related posts:

May 12, 2021 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

State judge finds four aggravating factors could support upward departure at Derek Chauvin's upcoming sentencing

As reported in this new AP piece, a "Minnesota judge has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the death of George Floyd, paving the way for the possibility of a longer sentence for Derek Chauvin, according to an order made public Wednesday."  Here are more details and context:

In his ruling dated Tuesday, Judge Peter Cahill found that Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer when he restrained Floyd last year and that he treated Floyd with particular cruelty. He also cited the presence of children when he committed the crime and the fact Chauvin was part of a group with at least three other people.

Cahill said Chauvin and two other officers held Floyd handcuffed, in a prone position on the street for an “inordinate amount of time” and that Chauvin knew the restraint was dangerous. “The prolonged use of this technique was particularly egregious in that George Floyd made it clear he was unable to breathe and expressed the view that he was dying as a result of the officers’ restraint,” Cahill wrote.

Even with the aggravating factors, legal experts have said, Chauvin, 45, is unlikely to get more than 30 years when he is sentenced June 25....

Even though Chauvin was found guilty of three counts, under Minnesota statutes he’ll only be sentenced on the most serious one — second-degree murder. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, he would have faced a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years on that count, and Cahill could have sentenced him to as little as 10 years and eight months or as much as 15 years and still stayed within the guideline range.

But prosecutors asked for what is known as an upward departure — arguing that Floyd was particularly vulnerable with his hands cuffed behind his back as he was face-down on the ground. They noted that Chauvin held his position even after Floyd became unresponsive and officers knew he had no pulse.

With Tuesday’s ruling, Cahill has given himself permission to sentence Chauvin above the guideline range, though he doesn’t have to, said Mark Osler, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He said attorneys for both sides will argue whether an upward departure is appropriate and how long the sentence should be.

A pre-sentence investigation report will also be conducted. These are usually nonpublic and include highly personal information such as family history and mental health issues, as well as details of the offense and the harm it caused others and the community....

Cahill agreed with all but one of the prosecutors’ arguments. He said prosecutors did not prove that Floyd was particularly vulnerable, noting that even though he was handcuffed, he was able to struggle with officers who were trying to put him in a squad car....

No matter what sentence Chauvin gets, in Minnesota it’s presumed that a defendant with good behavior will serve two-thirds of the penalty in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.

Chauvin has also been indicted on federal charges alleging he violated Floyd’s civil rights, as well as the civil rights of a 14-year-old he restrained in a 2017 arrest. If convicted on those charges, which were unsealed Friday, a federal sentence would be served at the same time as Chauvin’s state sentence. The three other former officers involved in Floyd’s death were also charged with federal civil rights violations; they await trial in state court on aiding and abetting counts.

The full six-page ruling reference in this article is available at this link.

Prior related posts:

May 12, 2021 in Blakely in the States, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Sentencing Project releases new report urging "A Second Look at Injustice"

Long-time readers know that I have long been a supporter of laws and practices that facilitate taking a second look at long sentences (see links below).  I continue to be pleased to see more and more advocacy for second look sentencing efforts, and I am especially pleased to see this new 50-page report from The Sentencing Project titled " " Here is the start of its Executive Summary:

Lawmakers and prosecutors have begun pursuing criminal justice reforms that reflect a key fact: ending mass incarceration and tackling its racial disparities require taking a second look at long sentences.

Over 200,000 people in U.S. prisons were serving life sentences in 2020 — more people than were in prison with any sentence in 1970. Nearly half of the life-sentenced population is African American.  Nearly one-third is age 55 or older.

“There comes a point,” Senator Cory Booker has explained, “where you really have to ask yourself if we have achieved the societal end in keeping these people in prison for so long.”  He and Representative Karen Bass introduced the Second Look Act in 2019 to enable people who have spent at least 10 years in federal prison to petition a court for resentencing.

Legislators in 25 states, including Minnesota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Florida, have recently introduced second look bills.  A federal bill allowing resentencing for youth crimes has bipartisan support.  And, over 60 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders have called for second look legislation, with several prosecutors’ offices having launched sentence review units.

This report begins by examining the evidence supporting these reforms.  Specifically:

•  Legal experts recommend taking a second look at prison sentences after people have served 10 to 15 years, to ensure that sentences reflect society’s evolving norms and knowledge.  The Model Penal Code recommends a judicial review after 15 years of imprisonment for adult crimes, and after 10 years for youth crimes.  National parole experts Edward Rhine, the late Joan Petersilia, and Kevin Reitz have recommended a second look for all after 10 years of imprisonment — a timeframe that corresponds with what criminological research has found to be the duration of most “criminal careers.”

•  Criminological research has established that long prison sentences are counterproductive to public safety.  Many people serving long sentences, including for a violent crime, no longer pose a public safety risk when they have aged out of crime.  Long sentences are of limited deterrent value and are costly, because of the higher cost of imprisoning the elderly.  These sentences also put upward pressure on the entire sentencing structure, diverting resources from better investments to promote public safety.

•  Crime survivors are not of one mind and many have unmet needs that go beyond perpetual punishment.  Ultimately, a survivor’s desire for punishment must be balanced with societal goals of advancing safety, achieving justice, and protecting human dignity.

A few on many recent prior posts on second-look topics:

A sampling of my prior writing on this front through the years:

May 12, 2021 in Examples of "over-punishment", Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Fourth Circuit to review en banc recent panel ruling that lengthy (within-guideline) drug sentence was unreasonable

I noted in this post a few months ago the fascinating split Fourth Circuit panel ruling in US v. Freeman, No. 19-4104 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021) (available here), which started this way:

Precias Freeman broke her tailbone as a teenager, was prescribed opioids, and has been addicted to the drugs ever since. In 2018, she was sentenced to serve more than 17 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone and oxycodone in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). After Freeman’s appointed counsel initially submitted an Anders brief asking for the Court’s assistance in identifying any appealable issues, we directed counsel to brief whether Freeman’s sentence is substantively reasonable and whether Freeman received ineffective assistance of counsel on the face of the record. On both grounds, we vacate Freeman’s sentence and remand this case for resentencing.

The dissenting opinion concluded this way:

I have great sympathy for Freeman’s circumstances. Her story reflects failures in our community. One could argue her sentence does not reflect sound policy. But that does not make it unreasonable under the law. And while the record is concerning regarding the effectiveness of counsel Freeman received, it does not conclusively demonstrate a failure to meet the constitutional bar at this juncture. I dissent.

This case is already quite the fascinating story, but this new Fourth Circuit order shows that it is due to have another chapter at the circuit level:

A majority of judges in regular active service and not disqualified having voted in a poll requested by a member of the court to grant rehearing en banc, IT IS ORDERED that rehearing en banc is granted.

I am grateful for the colleague who made sure I saw this order, but I am disappointed that the very, very, very rare federal sentence reversed as unreasonably long is now getting en banc review when so many crazy long sentences so often get so quickly upheld as reasonable. The language of this order suggests the Fourth Circuit decide to rehear this case en banc on its own without even being asked to do so by the Justice Department.  And I am also unsure about whether Fourth Circuit en banc procedure will lead to any further briefing or arguments, but  the fact that there are two key issues (ineffective assistance of counsel AND reasonableness of the sentences) means that there might be a wide array of opinions ultimately coming from the full Fourth Circuit.

Prior related post:

May 11, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Examples of "over-punishment", Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

"Old law" federal prisoners provide new reminder that parole does not cure all ills

A few years ago I wrote an essay, titled "Reflecting on Parole's Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System," which lamented the federal sentencing system's decision to abolish parole back in 1984.  Among other points, in this piece I suggested that "parole could have been, and perhaps should now become, a bulwark against the kind of impersonalized severity that has come to define much of the modern federal sentencing experience."  I realized while working on that piece that there was a bit of "grass is always greener" thinking driving my modern "ivory tower" affinity for part of a sentencing scheme that has long been beset with problems in practice. 

Today, the imperfect realities of parole is highlighted in this new NPR piece a helpful reader made sure I saw headlined "Forgetting And Forgotten: Older Prisoners Seek Release But Fall Through The Cracks."  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it starts and a few other passages:

Davon-Marie Grimmer has been struggling to get help for more than year for her cousin, Kent Clark. Sometimes, when he calls from prison, he asks to speak with relatives who are no longer alive. Sometimes, he forgets the name of his cell mate. "As far as I know, he hasn't received any medical attention for the dementia, and he's just so vulnerable in there," Grimmer said. "He's 66 years old. He can't take care of himself."

Clark is one of about 150 people in federal prison who time mostly forgot. This group of "old law" prisoners committed crimes before November 1987, when the law changed to remove the possibility of parole. But even with the grandfathered-in chance for parole — and despite a push to reduce prison populations — dozens of men in their 60s, 70s and 80s still have little hope of release.

When Congress tweaked the law three years ago to allow sick and elderly people behind bars to apply to a judge for compassionate release, that change didn't apply to the "old law" prisoners. They're easy to overlook.

"They are the oldest and most vulnerable cohort of people within the federal prison system today," said Chuck Weisselberg, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "I mean, their only path for release is through the parole commission, an agency that's been dying for decades."

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would give "old law" prisoners the chance to petition judges for release based on their age and poor health, but it's awaiting action in Congress....

As for Kent Clark, the U.S. Parole Commission reviewed his case last year.  According to written records, Clark's case manager told the commission that Clark is showing signs of dementia.  He pointed out that as a young man, Clark was a boxer who may have a history of head injuries.

But the parole examiner denied Clark's bid for release.  The examiner wrote that if Clark can't remember what he did, "how can the Commission be certain he has learned something from his mistakes and/or that he has developed the skills to avoid engaging in the same behavior?"

May 11, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 10, 2021

On fleek and spicy: "Millennials Commit Less Crime Than Prior Generations"

Though my effort to use millennial terminology in the title of this post is surely sus, I wanted to take a high-key approach to spilling the tea about some notable new crime research.  This UT press release has the headline that I quoted in the title of this post, but the published new research discussed in the press release is titled "How Cohorts Changed Crime Rates, 1980–2016."  This article is authored by William Spelman and appears in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology (2021). Here is its abstract:

Objective

Identify the effect of differences in criminal activity among birth cohorts on crime rates over time. Determine the extent to which cohort effects are responsible for nationwide crime reductions of the last thirty years.

Methods

Use a panel of state age-arrest data and frequently used economic, social, and criminal justice system covariates to estimate a proxy or characteristic function for current period effects.  Combine these results with national age-arrest data to estimate nationwide age, current period, and birth cohort effects on crime rates for 1980–2016.

Results

Criminal activity steadily declined between the 1916 and 1945 birth cohorts. It increased among Baby Boomers and Generation X, then dropped rapidly among Millennials, born after 1985. The pattern was similar for all index crimes. Period effects were mostly responsible for the late 1980s crack boom and the 1990s crime drop, but age and cohort effects were primarily responsible for crime rate reductions after 2000. In general, birth cohort and current period effects are about equally important in determining crime rates.

Conclusions vPolicies aimed at reducing delinquency among young children may be more effective in the long run than current policies aimed at incapacitation, deterrence, and opportunity reduction. 

May 10, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Two sharp discussions of the inefficacy and inequities of the war on drugs

Today I saw two different types of commentary coming from two different authors saying in different ways the same fundamental resolute point: the war on drugs has been a failure full of injustices and we must dramatically change course.  Both pieces should be read in full, and I hope these snippets prompt clicks through:

First, be sure to check out Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Health Affairs blog entry titled "Addiction Should Be Treated, Not Penalized." (Hat tip: Marijuana Moment).  Here are excerpts (links from original):

[Health] disparities are particularly stark in the field of substance use and substance use disorders, where entrenched punitive approaches have exacerbated stigma and made it hard to implement appropriate medical care. Abundant data show that Black people and other communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by decades of addressing drug use as a crime rather than as a matter of public health....

Although statistics vary by drug type, overall, White and Black people do not significantly differ in their use of drugs, yet the legal consequences they face are often very different. Even though they use cannabis at similar rates, for instance, Black people were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than White people in 2018.  Of the 277,000 people imprisoned nationwide for a drug offense in 2013, more than half (56 percent) were African American or Latino even though together those groups accounted for about a quarter of the US population.

During the early years of the opioid crisis in this century, arrests for heroin greatly exceeded those for diverted prescription opioids, even though the latter — which were predominantly used by White people — were more widely misused.  It is well known that during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, much harsher penalties were imposed for crack (or freebase) cocaine, which had high rates of use in urban communities of color, than for powder cocaine, even though they are two forms of the same drug.  These are just a few examples of the kinds of racial discrimination that have long been associated with drug laws and their policing....

Drug use continues to be penalized, despite the fact that punishment does not ameliorate substance use disorders or related problems.  One analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.  

Imprisonment, whether for drug or other offenses, actually leads to much higher risk of drug overdose upon release. More than half of people in prison have an untreated substance use disorder, and illicit drug and medication use typically greatly increases following a period of imprisonment. 

Second, be sure to also read Nkechi Taifa, convener of the Justice Roundtable, commenting at the Brennan Center under the title "Race, Mass Incarceration, and the Disastrous War on Drugs."  Here is how the (relatively more optimistic) piece concludes (again links in original):

Fortunately, the tough-on-crime chorus that arose from the War on Drugs is disappearing and a new narrative is developing.  I sensed the beginning of this with the 2008 Second Chance Reentry bill and 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  I smiled when the 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama came out, which held that mandatory life sentences without parole for children violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  In 2013, I was delighted when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his Smart on Crime policies, focusing federal prosecutions on large-scale drug traffickers rather than bit players.  The following year, I applauded President Obama’s executive clemency initiative to provide relief for many people serving inordinately lengthy mandatory-minimum sentences.  Despite its failure to become law, I celebrated the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a carefully negotiated bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015; a few years later some of its provisions were incorporated as part of the 2018 First Step Act.  All of these reforms would have been unthinkable when I first embarked on criminal legal system reform.

But all of this is not enough.  We have experienced nearly five decades of destructive mass incarceration.  There must be an end to the racist policies and severe sentences the War on Drugs brought us.  We must not be content with piecemeal reform and baby-step progress.

Indeed, rather than steps, it is time for leaps and bounds.  End all mandatory minimum sentences and invest in a health-centered approach to substance use disorders.  Demand a second-look process with the presumption of release for those serving life-without-parole drug sentences.  Make sentences retroactive where laws have changed.  Support categorical clemencies to rectify past injustices.

It is time for bold action.  We must not be satisfied with the norm, but work toward institutionalizing the demand for a standard of decency that values transformative change.

May 10, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Effective review of (just some) issues surrounding home confinement for the Biden Justice Department

This new extended Hill article, headlined "DOJ faces big decision on home confinement," provide an effective accounting of the building discussion around the status of home confinement in the federal system as it appears the pandemic is winding down.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

The Biden administration will soon have to decide whether to send back to prison thousands of inmates who were transferred to home confinement after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have been facing mounting calls to rescind a policy implemented in the final days of the Trump administration that would revoke home confinement for those inmates as soon as the government lifts its emergency declaration over the coronavirus.

Advocates and lawmakers argue that the program has been a resounding success, and that it would be unjust to reincarcerate thousands of individuals who abided by the terms of their home confinement.  “If you're one of these people, you're trying to figure out, 'Do I go back to college? Do I start a new job? Do I start a family? Do I sign a lease? I mean, what can I do, not knowing where I'm going to be in six months?’ That's cruel to keep somebody in that doubt and uncertainty for this long and to say, ‘You know, don't worry about it, it's not going to happen tomorrow,’” said Kevin Ring, president of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Last year, in response to the CARES Act, then-Attorney General William Barr directed the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to prioritize home confinement for certain inmates in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus within the prison system.  According to the BOP, about 24,000 inmates have been released to home confinement since the beginning of the pandemic. Advocates say there are now about 4,500 people facing uncertainty about whether they might have to go back to prison after months of reintegrating into society.

BOP Director Michael Carvajal told a House Appropriations subcommittee in March that just 21 inmates released to home confinement were sent back to prison for alleged rule violations. And in the program overall, only one person has committed a new crime....

The uncertainty about the program’s fate began in January, a few days before President Biden's inauguration, when the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo stating that under federal law, those inmates released under the CARES Act must report back to prison when the coronavirus emergency is over, unless they are nearing the end of their sentence.

Randilee Giamusso, a BOP spokesperson, said the Biden administration had recently expanded the eligibility for home confinement.  “This is an important legal issue about the language Congress used in the CARES Act,” Giamusso said in a statement.  “It is important to recognize even under the Office of Legal Counsel's (OLC) reading of the statute, the BOP will have discretion to keep inmates on home confinement after the pandemic if they’re close to the end of their sentences.  For the more difficult cases, where inmates still have years left to serve, this will be an issue only after the pandemic is over.”

Giamusso added that Biden recently extended the national emergency regarding COVID-19, and that the Department of Health and Human Services expects the public health crisis to last at least through December.  “The BOP is focused right now on expanding the criteria for home confinement and taking steps to ensure individualized review of more inmates who might be transferred,” Giamusso said.

Still, some lawmakers and advocates argue that the Trump-era policy would unnecessarily upend the lives of those deemed low-risk enough to be sent home and who have since abided by the terms of their home confinement.  Biden and Garland are facing pressure to rescind the policy memo, receiving letters from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; a bipartisan group of 28 House lawmakers; and a coalition of advocacy groups....

This past week, the White House told advocates that Biden is preparing to use his clemency powers, in what would be a rare early exercise of the power to commute or pardon incarcerated people.  Ring said rescinding the home confinement policy, or using another tool to keep those affected by it out of prison, is an easy way for Biden to show that he’s serious about taking on mass incarceration.

“They've said they want to use the clemency authority more robustly to let people out of prison who don't need to be there,” said Ring, who has served time in federal prison. “Well, here's 4,500 people that Bill Barr and Donald Trump cleared as the lowest of low risk. So if you can't find a way to keep these people home, I mean, how discouraging will it be for those who are hoping for clemency?”...

Experts and advocates alike see the home confinement policy as a radical experiment that yielded positive results, potentially adding more momentum to criminal justice reform efforts that have seen a growing bipartisan consensus against the tough-on-crime policies of the late 20th century.  Ring, of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said lawmakers should consider the success of the home confinement program as a potential alternative to incarceration.  “I think this is still a good model or a good use of natural experiment to show that we can keep more people in the community, and not keep them in prison,” he said. “Congress should use what happened here as evidence for expanding home confinement going forward.”

But in the meantime, Ring said, the priority is for the Biden administration to make clear that it does not intend to re-incarcerate those who are serving their sentences out at home. “Not only do they need to fix it, they need to fix it immediately,” he said. “They need to announce to these people, ‘You're not going back. We're not making you go back. We'll rescind the memo or we'll use some other authority we have to fix this.' But these people need to get on with their lives.”

I am grateful for this effective review of not just the COVID-driven home confinement changes, but also the broader issue of whether this unfortunate "natural experiment" justifies a robust rethinking of home confinement as an alternative punishment.  And I think that issue need to be explored even further because I surmise that home confinement can end up meaning lots of different things for lots of different persons.  And, in addition to the wonderfully low number of problems with the COVID home confinement transfers, it will be interesting and important to track long-term recidivism rates for these groups. 

Some prior recent related posts:

May 10, 2021 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Constraining Criminal Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by F. Andrew Hessick and Carissa Byrne Hessick now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Most criminal law is statutory.  Although the violation of criminal statutes can result in significantly more serious consequences than violations of other types of statutes, the dominant theories of statutory interpretation do not distinguish between criminal statutes and non-criminal statutes.  They say that, when interpreting statutes, courts should always be faithful agents aiming to implement the will of the legislature, and that task does not change depending on whether the statute is criminal

This Article shows that treating the interpretation of criminal statutes the same way as other statutes is a major departure from the past.  Historically, courts did not simply try to implement the will of the legislature in interpreting criminal statutes; instead, they played a more active role, adopting a package of interpretive rules that constrained the criminal law.  The Article argues that courts should once again adopt this historical approach to interpreting criminal statutes in order to reestablish the judiciary as an important check on overly broad criminal laws, promote democratic accountability, and foster important principles of notice and predictability.

May 10, 2021 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Split Eleventh Circuit panel creates circuit split over compassionate relief criteria after FIRST STEP Act

I have blogged in recent months about a significant number of significant circuit rulings addressing the reach and application of the sentence modification provisions amended by the federal FIRST STEP Act.  The Second Circuit back in September was the first circuit to rule in Zullo/Brooker, rightly in my view, that district courts now have broad discretion to consider "any extraordinary and compelling reason for release that a defendant might raise" to justify a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).  Since then, there have been somewhat similar opinions from the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits generally recognizing that district courts now have broad authority after the FIRST STEP Act to determine "extraordinary and compelling" reasons that may justify a sentence reduction when an imprisoned person files a 3582(c)(1)(A) motion (see rulings linked below). 

But this past Friday, a split Eleventh Circuit panel issued the first major ruling in this area that breaks with the jurisprudence developed in these other circuits.  The majority opinion in US v. Bryant, No. 19-14267 (11th Cir. May 7, 2021) (available here), gets started this way:

Thomas Bryant is a corrupt former police officer who was sentenced to prison for running drugs and guns. He filed a motion seeking a reduction in his sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), and the district court denied that motion based on the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement found at U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13.  In resolving Bryant’s appeal, we must answer two questions about the relationship between Section 3582(c)(1)(A) and 1B1.13.

First, we must decide whether district courts reviewing defendant-filed motions under Section 3582(c)(1)(A) are bound by the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement.  Under Section 3582(c)(1)(A), a court can reduce an otherwise final sentence for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” as long as the reduction is “consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.”  The statute commands the Commission to publish a policy statement that defines “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” 28 U.S.C. § 994(t), and the Commission did: 1B1.13, which is entitled “Reduction in Term of Imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).”  At the time, the statute required all motions to be filed by the BOP.  The policy statement repeats that then-existing statutory language and, in its application notes, lists several circumstances that are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” that justify a sentence reduction.

So far, so good.  But after Congress changed the statute to allow defendants to file motions in addition to the BOP, several of our sister circuits have held that 1B1.13 is not an “applicable policy statement[]” for those defendant-filed motions.  This is so, they say, because the policy statement, quoting the pre-existing statute’s language, begins with the following phrase: “Upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons.”  Based mostly on that language, our sister circuits have held that this policy statement is not an “applicable policy statement” that binds judicial discretion as to defendant-filed motions.

We disagree with that reasoning.  The statute’s procedural change does not affect the statute’s or 1B1.13’s substantive standards, specifically the definition of “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”  The Commission’s standards are still capable of being applied and relevant to all Section 3582(c)(1)(A) motions, whether filed by the BOP or a defendant.  And the structure of the Guidelines, our caselaw’s interpretation of “applicable policy statement,” and general canons of statutory interpretation all confirm that 1B1.13 is still an applicable policy statement for a Section 3582(c)(1)(A) motion, no matter who files it.

Second, because we conclude that 1B1.13 is an applicable policy statement, we must determine how district courts should apply that statement to motions filed under Section 3582(c)(1)(A).  Bryant argues that Application Note 1(D) of 1B1.13 conflicts with the statute’s recent amendment.  As a catch-all provision, Application Note 1(D) says that a court may grant a motion if, “[a]s determined by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, there exists in the defendant’s case an extraordinary and compelling reason other than, or in combination with, the reasons described in subdivisions (A) through (C).”  Bryant argues that, because the statute now allows for defendant-filed motions, we should replace “as determined by the [BOP]” with “as determined by the [court].”  This alteration to the policy statement would give courts effectively unlimited discretion to grant or deny motions under Application Note 1(D).

But we cannot do that. Application Note 1(D) is not inconsistent with the procedural change in the statute that allows defendants to file motions.  Because we can apply both the amended Section 3582(c)(1)(A) and Application Note 1(D), we must apply both.

In short, 1B1.13 is an applicable policy statement for all Section 3582(c)(1)(A) motions, and Application Note 1(D) does not grant discretion to courts to develop “other reasons” that might justify a reduction in a defendant’s sentence. Accordingly, we affirm.

Judge Martin's dissent gets started this way:

Today’s majority opinion establishes the Eleventh Circuit as the only circuit to limit an inmate’s ability to get compassionate release from incarceration solely to those “extraordinary and compelling” reasons that are pre-approved by the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”).  Our precedent now allows no independent or individualized consideration by a federal judge as plainly intended by the First Step Act.  And this limitation on compassionate release is based on an outdated policy statement from a Sentencing Commission that has lacked a quorum since the First Step Act became law.  The problems that arise from the majority’s reliance on the outdated policy statement are compounded by the majority’s express decision to strike (or ignore) language from the policy statement.  Sadly, this result reinstates the exact problem the First Step Act was intended to remedy: compassionate release decisions had been left under the control of a government agency that showed no interest in properly administering it.  With all respect due, I dissent.

A few of many, many prior related posts:

May 9, 2021 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

How about Prez Biden and lots of Governors starting a tradition of granting lots of clemencies around Mother's Day?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by my persistent eagerness to see a lot more clemency activity from chief executives and also by this new story out of Illinois headlined "Protesters deliver Mother’s Day card to Pritzker’s house, demand release of incarcerated loved ones."  Here are excerpts:

Against a backdrop of bright pink tulips, protesters stood outside Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Gold Coast home on Friday with flowers, signs and a painted piece of cardboard that read, “Dear J.B., on this Mother’s Day, set our loved ones free.” That oversized Mother’s Day card included demands that Pritzker sign clemency petitions to for prisoners they say have been wrongfully incarcerated and that he stop construction of a new youth prison at the Lincoln Developmental Center.

Denice Bronis, an Elgin resident and member of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity, said her son Matthew Echevarria, in prison for 22 years after being convicted of murder, contracted COVID-19 at Menard Correctional Center and still exhibits long-term symptoms. “Mother’s Day is just as much a day of love as it is a day of pain, especially for those who have experienced forced separation from our children, our loved ones, by the state,” Bronis said....

Kiah Sandler, a Bronzeville resident with the End IL Prison Lockdown Coalition, said although the group’s demands have shifted since Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, there is still work to be done by the governor. Sandler said the coalition is asking Pritzker to lift that ban on personal contact during in-person visits, and also to grant more clemency requests to “set loved ones free with the stroke of a pen.”...

A Pritzker spokesperson later sent an email stating Pritzker has granted clemency requests throughout the pandemic and the state prison population is at its lowest level in years — down 28% since 2019, including a 43% drop in female inmates.

Holly Krig, a member of Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, said it is “horrific and cruelly unnecessary,” that visitors and incarcerated people are not allowed to touch and also that visitors must be vaccinated; that means children under 16 — who can’t be vaccinated yet — can’t visit. She said for younger children and newborns to maintain a relationship with incarcerated mothers, contact is essential. “People can be released, people should be released and they should be released immediately,” Krig said. “We need to bring our people home.”

As highlighted by recent polling discussed here, granting clemency to various groups of persons has considerable public support across the political spectrum.  Focusing particularly on reuniting families though commutations and restoring rights through pardons on Mother's Day could be a big political winner.

A few prior recent related posts:

May 9, 2021 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, May 8, 2021

"Enjoined and Incarcerated: Complications with Incarcerated People Seeking Economic Relief under the CARES Act"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Mitchell Caminer now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Congress passed the first round of checks as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) in late March 2020 to infuse more than $2 trillion into the national economy and address the overlapping medical and economic emergencies stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.  But incarcerated individuals were initially excluded from receiving stimulus checks, despite being eligible to receive them.  This delay in delivering immediate cash assistance through the CARES Act to incarcerated individuals exposes the inadequacy of the tax administrative doctrine in resolving emergency relief disputes and how exclusionary measures embedded in the tax system and other economic policies inhibit the rehabilitation prospects of incarcerated people.

Millions of Americans made personal and financial sacrifices in 2020 to aid the public health efforts, including incarcerated individuals.  In return, those who were denied economic relief on an arbitrary basis by the government should not have to wait until the following tax year to seek a legal remedy.  In other words, the legal framework for challenging tax decisions is too unsympathetic toward many taxpayers that rely on policies embedded in the tax code for immediate economic relief.  Further, by providing nearly universal economic stimulus, Congress recognized the plight of incarcerated individuals during a pandemic and moved away from the exclusionary stimulus measures enacted in prior economic crises.  Providing economic stimulus to those in incarceration is sound economic stimulus policy so long as punitive measures for individuals in and exiting incarceration are embedded in tax and economic policy.

May 8, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)