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September 26, 2019

Thoughtful commentary on the back-end realities and challenges of the criminal justice system

This week I have seen a number of important and thoughtful commentaries about important aspects of the back-end of modern criminal justice systems.  Here are two I recommend with brief excerpts:

From Joe Griffin and Arthur Rizer in the Tulsa World, "Probation and parole violations — often for technical offenses — are filling Oklahoma prisons, and it's time to do something about it":

A 2017 report drafted by the Council of State Governments shows roughly 24% of Oklahoma prison admissions were due to probation violations. That translates to roughly 3,000 people behind bars. Of those 3,000, more than half are in prison for a technical violation, such as staying out past curfew or missing a meeting. The annual cost to incarcerate these individuals is approximately $32 million.

If someone violates their terms of supervision, there should be consequences. Even more, if one poses a legitimate danger to the community, prison may be the best solution. But is sending a large number of individuals to prison who violate only the technical aspects of their supervision effective for public safety or fiscally responsible?

From J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr in the Detroit News, "Clean-slate legislation strengthens Michigan":

For years, Michigan has offered certain offenders a chance to set aside their criminal records through expungement. But this path has been long, narrow and rocky at best, so few people have been able to take advantage of it. Now, the state Legislature is considering adopting a package of new bills to expand set-aside access. We strongly urge it to do so.

We recently conducted a major study of the effects of Michigan’s set-aside procedure. We found that while very few people with records get set-asides, those who do have great outcomes. In particular, we find that expungement is associated with large improvements in employment opportunities. Wages increase by close to 25% in just a year as people who had been unemployed became able to find stable work.

We also find nothing to suggest that granting someone a set-aside puts the public at risk, as skeptics have sometimes suggested. Those who receive set-asides are less likely to commit a new crime than the general adult population of Michigan. The rate of serious or violent re-offending is almost zero.

UPDATE: I just saw this AP article in this same vein headlined "Prosecutor aims to help people clear records of drug crimes." It starts this way:

Thousands of people in Utah’s largest county would be able to clear their records of drug crimes under a push announced Tuesday that advocates say goes further than many similar efforts around the nation.

The move by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, which is expected to be approved by a judge, could make about 12,000 people eligible to expunge their records and remove obstacles to getting jobs, housing and education, he said. “Having a criminal record is the modern-day equivalent of being forced to wear a scarlet letter,” Gill said. “If we’re going to have any meaningful reform, we must first make sure when you have paid your debt to society these barriers are eliminated.”

The push comes amid a wave of criminal justice reforms in the U.S. A number of states and cities have moved to allow people with marijuana-related convictions to clear their records in places where the drug has been legalized.

In Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, the GOP-dominated Legislature has passed a law allowing many misdemeanor crimes to be automatically expunged for people who stay out of trouble for a set period.

The move by Gill, a Democrat, would turn thousands of felony convictions into misdemeanors, allowing them to be automatically wiped away when the new state law goes into effect next year.

The plan goes further than many reforms elsewhere in the country because it includes a wide range of drug-related convictions, some dating back two decades, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the group Fair and Just Prosecution, which works with prosecutors around the country on criminal justice reform. The Utah effort is extraordinary, she said. Gill’s office sorted through drug-related convictions from 1997 through 2015, looking for people with misdemeanors and low-level drug possession felonies who had stayed out of trouble for at least five years.

September 26, 2019 at 10:19 AM | Permalink

Comments

I always find it interesting when authors address the back-end of the criminal justice system instead of the usual discussions about what a sentence should be. I think that the conversations around criminal justice reform do not go far enough because they fail to address what happens to a person when they are released. When we release incarcerated people back into society we expect them to get on with their lives or, in some cases, live in a tightly controlled world of supervised release. The odds are stacked against the person. Shorter sentences do not address the problems that result from being incarcerated in general, even if it is for a shorter period of time.

Posted by: Kate Toth | Sep 27, 2019 3:24:17 PM

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