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February 2, 2019

"Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons"

Robinson-English-Cover-364x586The title of this post is the title of this timely new book of essays edited by Gerard Robinson and Elizabeth English Smith. Here is the publisher's description of the text:

Almost 650,000 men and women, approximately the size of the city of Memphis, TN, return home from prison every year. Oftentimes with some pocket change and a bus ticket, they reenter society and struggle to find work, housing, a supportive social network.  Economic barriers, the stigma of a felony conviction, and mental health and addiction challenges make reentry a bleak picture, leading some to return to a life of crime. A Department of Justice study of 404,638 inmates in 30 states released in 2005, for example, identified that 68 percent were rearrested within 3 years and 77 percent within 5 years of release.

Education and workforce readiness programs must be central components in better preparing individuals to successfully reenter society — and stay out of prison.  This book compiles chapters written by individuals on the right and the left of the political spectrum, and within and outside the fields of prison education and reentry that address this need for reform.  Chapters feature the voices of prominent national figures pushing for reform, current and former students who have benefitted from an education program while in prison, those teaching or managing educational programs within prison, and researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy influencers.

This page over at AEI provides this additional accounting of the book:

Prisoner rehabilitation through postsecondary education and workforce readiness programming is one of the most contested criminal justice policies today.  At the center of this national debate about crime and punishment are 230-year-old questions about the role prisons should play in a democratic society.  Are our prisons designed for corporal punishment, human improvement, or a combination thereof?  Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the United States government has provided conflicting answers to the American public.  After a number of postsecondary college programs closed following the passage of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, coupled with the slow growth of adult basic, secondary, and CTE courses, efforts to rehabilitate prisoners have taken a front seat in criminal justice reform debates today. Local, state and federal support for these programs has grown, as has the national prominence of corporate and philanthropic efforts to provide programming to people inside of prison and those who have just re-entered society.

Education for Liberation addresses how to reform our criminal justice system by better preparing individuals to successfully re-enter society upon their release from prison.  This volume complies chapters written by experts working in academia, policy, correctional agencies, and the private sector to address ideological debates as well as challenges and opportunities associated with providing an education to incarcerated adults.

February 2, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 1, 2019

Matthew Charles, released thanks to the FIRST STEP Act, provides view of next steps for criminal justice reform

Matthew Charles has this new Washington Post commentary headlined "I was released under the First Step Act. Here’s what Congress should do next."  It merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

In December, Congress approved and Trump signed the First Step Act.  The new law included a provision that shortened sentences for crack cocaine-related offenses, such as mine.  The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that change will help almost 2,700 people.

This time, there was no mistake.  The government and my defense attorney agreed that I should be released immediately.  On Jan. 3, I went home.  I was one of the first people to get released under the law.

My heart is filled with gratitude for everyone who supported me and supported the First Step Act.  Every week, I hear about more people leaving prison because of the new law. Overall, more than 150,000 people in the long term will benefit from the law’s sentencing and prison reforms.  The First Step Act was a great start, but we have to do more.  I got a second chance — and so should so many others.

Since leaving prison, I have looked for ways to serve the poor and to advocate on behalf of those I left behind.  This week, I went to Washington to thank lawmakers for supporting prison reform and to ask that they consider more reforms that will recognize that people can change.  In the year and a half that I was home, people saw that I was not the same person who was convicted of selling crack as a young man.  There are many people still serving decades-long sentences who have rehabilitated themselves, like I did.  Unfortunately, most Americans do not see or hear from them, and they are not given a real opportunity to demonstrate that they have changed.

Congress should pass a law that would allow all federal prisoners to earn a second chance after serving a certain amount of time — maybe 15 years.  People would not be guaranteed release, but they would be given an opportunity to be resentenced by a judge.  The judge could determine whether they had used their time in prison to atone for their crimes and make changes for the better.  If not, they would continue to serve their original sentence.

A law such as this would encourage prisoners to improve themselves. Some might think this idea is too lenient, but 15 years is a long time.  From what I saw during my years behind bars, anyone who wants and deserves a second chance would be able to demonstrate that within 15 years....

I got lucky. Our justice system shouldn’t depend on luck.  The First Step Act is in place — now it should be used to make real change and help families.  And let’s not lose any time in making a Next Step Act, because everyone deserves a second chance.

February 1, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Unusual: The Death Penalty for Inadvertent Killing"

The title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Guyora Binder, Brenner Fissell and Robert Weisberg that was just posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Can a burglar who frightens the occupant of a house, causing a fatal heart attack, be executed?  More generally, does the Eighth Amendment permit capital punishment of one who causes death inadvertently?  This scenario is possible in the significant minority of American jurisdictions that permit capital punishment for felony murder without requiring a mental state of intent to kill or reckless indifference to human life.  Thus far, Eighth Amendment death penalty jurisprudence has required a culpable mental state of recklessness for execution of accomplices in a fatal felony but has not yet addressed the culpability required for execution of the actual killer.

In this Article, we urge the recognition of a new Eighth Amendment norm against executing even actual killers who lack a culpable mental state of at least recklessness, with respect to the victim’s death.  Using the methods employed by the Supreme Court for determining “evolving standards of decency,” we survey the pertinent homicide and sentencing laws of the fifty-three criminal law jurisdictions in the United States.  Second, we evaluate the facts of the cases that resulted in the nearly five hundred executions that have taken place since 1973, when the post-Furman statutes became operative, and 2016, in those jurisdictions permitting execution for inadvertent killing. We did the same for the facts of the 1755 cases of all death row inmates convicted in those jurisdictions and alive at the time of the study (2016).  This analysis shows that capital punishment for inadvertent killing has become “truly unusual,” and therefore, unconstitutional.

February 1, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 31, 2019

US Sentencing Commission releases new report titled "Revocations Among Federal Offenders"

Research reports are coming so fast and furious from the US Sentencing Commission, it seems that all I have time for on a busy Thursday is to blog about yet another notable USSC report. Yesterday, as flagged in this post, the new USSC report was on economics crimes; today, the USSC released this 41-page report titled "Revocations Among Federal Offenders." This USSC webpage provides this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

Summary

This publication explores a subset of the Commission’s criminal history rules—those regarding the revocation of terms of probation, parole, supervised release, special parole, and mandatory release.  These rules affect an offender’s criminal history score and Criminal History Category.  This report analyzes the nature and prevalence of revocations, and explores the impact of revocations upon safety valve relief and the career offender guideline.

Key Findings

The key findings of the Commission’s study of revocations are that:

  • Only a minority of offenders (35.0%) with criminal history points under the federal sentencing guidelines had at least one scored conviction with a revocation. Most often such offenders had only one such conviction.

  • For the minority of offenders who did have at least one scored conviction with a revocation, it often increased their criminal history score and resulting Criminal History Category. Among offenders with at least one scored conviction in their criminal history, three-fifths (60.2%) received additional criminal history points, and just under a third (30.9%) received an increase in Criminal History Category. For those offenders who received an increase into a higher Criminal History Category, the impact was generally limited to one Criminal History Category.

  • The rate at which offenders had at least one scored conviction with a revocation varied significantly depending on the type of federal offender. Firearms offenders were the most likely (54.3%) and immigration offenders the least likely (20.9%) to have at least one scored conviction with a revocation. However, the impact of such convictions on their criminal history scores and Criminal History Categories varied much less. Among offenders with at least one such conviction, firearms offenders were the most often (66.2%) and immigration offenders least often (55.9%) to receive additional criminal history points. Furthermore, among offenders who received additional criminal history points, those points resulted in a higher Criminal History Category most often for drug trafficking offenders (53.1%) and least often for firearms offenders (42.9%).

  • The Commission cannot state with certainty how often revocations are based on new crimes versus technical violations because the underlying basis for the revocation could not be determined in 38.7 percent of the cases studied. However, between 38.9 percent and 77.5 percent of the revocations studied were for new crimes, and between 22.5 and 61.1 percent were for technical violations.

  • Prior revocations did not significantly limit offender eligibility for the statutory safety valve, which relieves certain drug trafficking offenders from otherwise applicable statutory mandatory minimum penalties. Of the drug trafficking offenders studied, only 2.3 percent appear to be ineligible for the safety valve based solely on scored convictions with revocations.

  • Prior revocations had a more significant impact on offenders who received the career offender enhancement at §4B1.1. Of the career offenders studied, 10.7 percent qualified for the career offender enhancement in part because of scored convictions with revocations.

January 31, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission releases new report titled "What Does Federal Economic Crime Really Look Like?"

Cover_2019-econ-crimeContintuing its steady production of research reports to start 2019, the US Sentencing Commission yesterday released this 87-page report under the title ""What Does Federal Economic Crime Really Look Like?". This USSC webpage provides this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

Summary

This publication provides data on the broad variety of economic crime sentenced under §2B1.1.  The Commission undertook a project to systematically identify and classify the myriad of economic crimes sentenced under §2B1.1 using offenders' statutes of conviction and offense conduct.  The Commission used this two-step methodology to assign the 6,068 offenders sentenced under §2B1.1 in fiscal year 2017 to one of 29 specific types of economic crime.

This publication provides, for the first time, data from this new project as well as a brief description of the study's methodology.

Key Findings

  • The economic crime guideline (§2B1.1) accounts for approximately ten percent of the federal caseload and encompasses a wide variety of conduct.

  • Embezzlement and theft offenders consistently accounted for about one-quarter of all economic crime offenders, ranging from 24.6 to 28.3 percent during the five years studied.  Financial institution fraud and government benefits fraud offenders have also been among the top five most prevalent type of economic crime offenders.

  • The offense severity, as measured by several guideline enhancements, varied significantly across the 17 specific types of economic crime that were the focus of this report.  In particular, median loss amounts varied substantially, with four specific offense types involving median losses far exceeding the median loss amount for all economic crime offenders of $131,750: securities and investment fraud ($2,105,620), health care fraud ($1,086,205), mortgage fraud ($999,721), and government procurement fraud ($739,455) and two specific offense types with the lowest median loss amounts: mail related fraud ($1,815) and false statements ($0).  These differences are particularly noteworthy because the loss calculation is the primary driver of the guideline calculation under §2B1.1.

  • The application rates of other guideline provisions measuring offense severity and offender culpability also varied significantly across the specific types of economic crime. For example, the victims enhancement applied in 78.1 percent of securities and investment fraud compared to 2.4 percent of false statements offenses, and the sophisticated means enhancement applied in 37.5 percent of advanced fee fraud compared to 0.6 percent of mail related fraud.

  • The average sentences varied significantly across the specific types of economic crime. Securities and investment fraud offenders received the longest average sentences at 52 months, more than twice as long as the average sentence for all economic crime offenders of 23 months.  False statements offenders received the shortest average sentence at five months.

  • Offender characteristics also differed across economic crime types.  For example, White offenders accounted for a substantial majority of securities and investment fraud (79.9%), computer related fraud (70.5%), and government procurement fraud (62.3%), while Black offenders accounted for the largest proportion of tax fraud (55.0%), identity theft (49.4%), and credit card fraud (45.0%).

January 31, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 30, 2019

Texas completes first execution of 2019

As reported in this local article, "Robert Jennings was on Texas’ death row for nearly 30 years.  On Wednesday, the 61-year-old was put to death in the nation’s first execution of 2019."  Here is more:

Jennings was sentenced to death in the 1988 murder of Houston police officer Elston Howard.  According to court records, Jennings walked into an adult bookstore to rob it, and Howard was there arresting the store clerk for a municipal violation.  The clerk testified that Howard had no time to even reach for his gun before Jennings shot him multiple times, killing him.

Less than an hour after his final appeals were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Jennings was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 6:15 p.m. in the state's execution chamber in Huntsville.  He was pronounced dead 18 minutes later.  In his final words uttered strapped to a gurney, he told his friends and family it was "a nice journey."

"To the family of the police officer, I hope this finds you peace," he said. "... Enjoy life's moments because we never get them back."

The lengthy stretch of time between Jennings' 1989 sentencing and his execution shines a light on the complications that can arise during the appeals process in the face of constantly evolving death penalty law.  In their last attempt to halt Jennings' execution, his lawyers zeroed in on changes in how death penalty juries weigh "mitigating evidence"— factors that can lessen the severity of the punishment that are largely based on the defendant's background, like an abusive childhood or intellectual disability.

January 30, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Beyond State v. Loomis: Artificial Intelligence, Government Algorithmization, and Accountability"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN and authored by Han-Wei Liu, Ching-Fu Lin and Yu-Jie Chen. Here is its abstract:

Developments in data analytics, computational power, and machine learning techniques have driven all branches of the government to outsource authority to machines in performing public functions — social welfare, law enforcement, and most importantly, courts.  Complex statistical algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) tools are being used to automate decision-making and are having a significant impact on individuals’ rights and obligations. Controversies have emerged regarding the opaque nature of such schemes, the unintentional bias against and harm to underrepresented populations, and the broader legal, social, and ethical ramifications.

State v. Loomis, a recent case in the United States, well demonstrates how unrestrained and unchecked outsourcing of public power to machines may undermine human rights and the rule of law. With a close examination of the case, this Article unpacks the issues of the ‘legal black box’ and the ‘technical black box’ to identify the risks posed by rampant ‘algorithmization’ of government functions to due process, equal protection, and transparency. We further assess some important governance proposals and suggest ways for improving the accountability of AI-facilitated decisions.  As AI systems are commonly employed in consequential settings across jurisdictions, technologically-informed governance models are needed to locate optimal institutional designs that strike a balance between the benefits and costs of algorithmization.

January 30, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Contextualizing passage of the FIRST STEP Act and its likely echoes

Sociology Prof Michelle Phelps has this notable new Conversation commentary headlined "Congress’s First Step Act reflects a new criminal justice consensus, but will it reduce mass incarceration?". The piece explains why the author thinks "no" is the sensible answer to the question headlining her commentary.  Here are excerpts (with some links from the original preserved):

I have found in my research that criminal justice policies and practices in the United States have often followed complex trajectories. Reforms often receive support from unlikely coalitions.  But, by focusing on these strange bedfellows, commentators and advocates sometimes paper over the deeper disagreements in ideas about who, how and how much to punish.  Fights over these differences ultimately shape how policies get put into practice — and whether the bill ultimately achieves its intended outcomes.  While the First Step Act’s passage may look like a clear victory for more moderate punishment, its implementation and impact under the Trump administration is likely to be quite limited.

Criminal justice is often described by academics and journalists as a pendulum that swings wildly between harsh punishment focused on retribution, and more lenient treatment focused on redemption or reformation.  In this metaphor, some people saw Trump’s election as a swing of the pendulum away from progressive punishment and back toward punitive policies.

In our book Breaking the Pendulum, my colleagues Joshua Page and Philip Goodman and I argue that a better metaphor is the constant, low-level grinding of tectonic plates that continually produce friction and occasionally erupt in earthquakes. This friction manifests in traditional political combat, mass demonstrations, prison rebellions, and academic and policy work.  Periodically, major changes in conditions like crime rates and the economy change to provide support and opportunities to one side or another.  These changes often bring together unlikely allies.

People typically associate the “law and order” approach to criminal justice with Republicans.  However, new research shows how liberals laid the ground for these policies. It was the Democratic administration of President Lyndon Johnson during the 1960s that first launched the “war on crime” by expanding federal funding to build up the capacity of local law enforcement agencies. In the following decades, the crime rate spiked, due in part to better reporting by police departments, and crime became a hot political issue.

By the 1990s, Republicans and Democrats had all but converged on attitudes toward law enforcement. Not wanting to lose to Republicans by being portrayed as “soft on crime,” Democrats took increasingly “tough” criminal justice stances. President Bill Clinton’s wildly popular 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was the apex of this bipartisan enthusiasm for aggressive policing, prosecution and punishment.  The bill made federal sentencing guidelines more severe, increasing both life sentences and the death penalty, and built up funding streams to increase local police forces and state prison capacity.

Despite the rhetoric of the crime bill, the best evidence suggests that it played little role in the explosion of the national prison population — or what scholars term “mass imprisonment.”  This is because policies focused on harsh punishment had already peaked by 1994.  In addition, it only applied to the federal system, which represents only 10 percent of all people locked up.  Finally, even though there was wide support for the crime bill, activists, politicians, judges and others continued to fight against “tough” punishment, eventually building the momentum for the First Step Act.

What does this history tell us about the First Step Act?

First, it’s not surprising that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals came together on the bill. Both camps have moved away from the “tough on crime” mantra.  Democrats now talk of “smart on crime” policies while some Republicans support the “right on crime” initiative.  Both agree that aggressive policing and heavy criminal penalties for low-level offenses, particularly drug crimes, do more harm than good.

The rise of a new approach to criminal justice can be tied to a number of changes since the 1990s, including historically low crime rates, strained state and federal budgets and a growing awareness of the negative consequences of mass incarceration.  Critically, a cadre of conservative leaders spent the past two decades working to change Republican orthodoxy on this issue.  They frame mass incarceration as a fiscal and moral failure that wastes tax dollars and violates the Christian principles of “second chances” and redemption....

However, bipartisan consensus is not as seamless as it is sometimes portrayed.  A group of Republican leaders remain aggressively opposed to these criminal justice reforms.  And at the last hour, they nearly killed the First Step Act....

During his confirmation hearing last week, [Attorney General nominee William] Barr promised to “diligently implement” the First Step Act, but then backtracked to support Session’s policies at the Justice Department, adding, “we must keep up the pressure on chronic, violent criminals.”

Like the ‘94 bill before it, this indicates that the First Step Act will likely be more bark than bite.  The First Step Act might provide relief to several thousand current federal prisoners.  But Barr will likely follow Sessions and direct his prosecutors to seek the maximum criminal penalties against current defendants, including for drug offenses, limiting the impact of the First Step Act’s sentencing reform.  And the bill will have no practical effect on state prison systems, which in some cases have already embraced much more radical reforms.

While the First Step Act is a move in the direction of more humane and moderate criminal justice practices, I think it will likely be a very small first step indeed.

January 30, 2019 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 29, 2019

Condemned Alabama inmate seeks stay of execution based on notable religious claims

As reported in this local story, "Alabama Death Row inmate set to die by lethal injection next week claims his execution should be stayed because the prison won’t let him have a Muslim spiritual adviser present in the execution chamber."  Here is more about a notable effort to put off an execution:

Domineque Ray, 42, is set to be executed at Holman Prison on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. by lethal injection for the 1995 killing, rape, and robbery of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville. On Monday, Ray’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Ray’s right to freedom of religion was being violated. They also asked for a stay of execution.

The lawsuit claims Ray, a Muslim, asked Holman’s Warden Cynthia Stewart last week that he be permitted to have a Muslim spiritual adviser — or imam — in the execution chamber instead of the prison’s longtime Christian chaplain. The warden denied his request and denied Ray’s second request to not have the chaplain present in the execution chamber at all, according to the lawsuit.

Ray made a third request to have no autopsy performed on his body because it conflicted with his religious beliefs, and Stewart said she “had no control” over that accommodation, the complaint says. The same day Ray met with the warden, Ray also met with the prison chaplain. The Christian chaplain told Ray his requests "could not be honored due to ADOC policy,” the lawsuit says....

The lawsuit claims Ray’s First Amendment rights have been violated, along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Tuesday, Ray’s lawyers also filed in federal court an emergency motion for a stay of execution, claiming Ray’s constitutional violations should halt the scheduled execution. “Alabama has made a policy decision… the chaplain is there solely for a religious purpose,” the motion says. “In other words, Mr. Ray’s freedom of religion lasts until he enters the execution chamber.”...

Ray’s imam will be allowed to witness the execution from a room adjacent to the chamber through two-way glass. “There is no compelling governmental interest in preventing a condemned inmate from having his or her spiritual adviser- who has been approved to have a contact visit… moments before the execution begins—from taking the place of the prison chaplain in the execution chamber,” the suit states. “When that spiritual adviser is otherwise available, in the moments before death, imposes a substantial burden on the free exercise of Mr. Ray’s religious beliefs.”

The Christian chaplain’s “mandatory presence” in the execution chamber serves an unconstitutional interest in “safeguarding the soul or spiritual health of the condemned inmate in the Christian (non-Catholic) belief system… [it] has the principle of primary effect of advancing Christian (non-Catholic) religion and inhibiting all other religions,” the lawsuit claims. The suit also says the chaplain policy creates an “excessive entanglement of government with religion.”...

John Palombi and Spencer Hahn, assistant Federal Defenders, are representing Ray in the federal cases. Palombi said, “Mr. Ray’s suit goes to the heart of one of the most cherished of all rights, the right to freedom of religion. Neither Mr. Ray’s right to practice his religion nor his right to be free from having a different religion forced on him ends at the door to the execution chamber. We hope that the Commissioner will not force someone of a different religion on him and deny him the right to have his spiritual adviser with him at the moment of his death should that occur.”

January 29, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Religion | Permalink | Comments (2)

Any predictions (or suggestions) for what Prez Trump will say about FIRST STEP Act in coming State of the Union?

Thanks to the federal government shutdown, we have to wait an extra week to hear Prez Donald Trump deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and to the nation.  But I do not want to wait to speculate about what the Prez might say during SotU about the one big bipartisan achievement of the last year, namely the passage of the FIRST STEP Act.

As detailed in posts here and here from exactly a year ago, Prez Trump's 2018 State of the Union was arguably the first huge moment on the path to the passage of the FIRST STEP Act.  Prez Trump in that speech said: "As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens.  That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance."  

Of course, as I have stressed in (too) many prior posts, the real impact of the FIRST STEP Act depends greatly on how the law gets implemented.  So I am hoping that Prez Trump, in addition to crowing about the FIRST STEP Act, will commit his administration to ensuring the Act is well-implemented.  Doing so requires not only keeping the government open, but also ensuring appointments to the new institutions created by the Act (as well as to existing essential institutions like the US Sentencing Commission).  Notably, as detailed in this MuckRock piece from last week, headlined "The First Step Act’s first steps are stalled," the shutdown contributed to a poor start on this institutional implementation front:

As part of the “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act,” the First Step Act’s formal name, the National Institute of Justice -- part of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs -- was supposed to establish an Independent Review Commission [IRC] within 30 days of the law’s enactment.  The review commission is supposed to assist the attorney general and the Bureau of Prisons in the design and deployment of the risk and needs assessment tool, which will be used to determine the risk of recidivism and violent misconduct as well as assign the types, lengths, and rewards for recidivism reduction programs....

The first step in the development of the tool, which is slated to be operational within 210 days of the bill’s enactment, estimated to be the end of July 2019, was the selection of a nonprofit to lead the IRC. That organization would then appoint members to the committee. 

The law requires that the IRC be comprised of no fewer than six individuals who “shall all have expertise in risk and needs assessment systems,” including: two published peer-reviewed scholars, “two corrections practitioners who have developed and implemented a risk assessment tool in a corrections system,” one of whom should be familiar with Bureau of Prisons operations, and “one individual with expertise in assessing risk assessment implementation.” However, the government shutdown makes it unlikely that the NIJ has hit its first goal for the review commission. In turn, other requirements, such as the creation of the tool itself within 210 days of the bill’s passage, likely will be delayed.

Of course, I do not really expect Prez Trump to speak to these wonky particulars regarding the FIRST STEP Act. But I do hope his team urges him to talk up his success on criminal justice reform and perhaps even talk about wanting to follow up with positive second steps of some sort.

January 29, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Discussing "Cannabis Reform as Criminal Justice Reform" at North American Cannabis Summit

Download (4)I have had the great fortune of escaping some of the deep chill now hitting the midwest because I am in California participating in this great event, the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit.  This webpage provides links to all the awesome programming over three days at this summit, which "is organized by the overarching themes of public health, health disparities, and health equity in policy and practice and [addresses] legislative, medical, science, and policy implications for the legislation of marijuana in jurisdictions across the continent."

This afternoon I am speaking on the topic of "Cannabis Reform as Criminal Justice Reform," expanding in various ways on some of the coverage of my article titled "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices."  Because I already know what I am going to say, I am most looking forward to my panel to hear comments from the other participants, Shaleen Title, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Amol Sinha, Executive Director, ACLU-New Jersey, and Johnathon Card, Legal Policy Intern, Health in Justice Action Lab.  Folks can find on this webpage links to the presentation slides for the event.

In addition to praising the organization and presentations involved in this North American Cannabis Summit, I figured I could also use this post as an excuse to spotlight some of the criminal-justice-relevant blogging from over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.  So:

January 29, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 28, 2019

"Are Collateral Consequences Deserved?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Murray now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

While bipartisan passage of the First Step Act and state reforms like it will lead to changes in sentencing and release practices, they do little to combat the collateral consequences that ex-offenders face upon release.  Because collateral consequences involve the state infliction of serious harm on those who have been convicted or simply arrested, their existence requires justification.  Many scholars classify them as punishment, but modern courts generally diverge, deferring to legislative labels that classify them as civil, regulatory measures.  This label avoids having to address existing constitutional and legal constraints on punishment.  This Article argues that although collateral consequences occur outside of the formal boundaries of the criminal system, their roots stem from utilitarian justifications for criminal punishment, such as incapacitation.  Legislative justifications relating to creating and reforming collateral consequences and judicial doctrine confirms that decision-makers are operating on utilitarian terrain while cognizant of functional concerns in the criminal system.  Unfortunately, these philosophical roots inhibit broad reform efforts relating to collateral consequences because public-safety and risk prevention rationales chase utility.  The result is extra punishment run amok and in desperate need of constraints.

This Article pivots to a novel, but perhaps counterintuitive, approach to reforming collateral consequences: subjecting them to the constraints of retributivism by first asking whether they are deserved.  Retributivist constraints, emphasizing dignity and autonomy, blameworthiness, proportionality, a concern for restoration, and the obligations and duties of the authority tasked with inflicting punishment, suggest many collateral consequences are overly punitive and disruptive of social order.  Viewing collateral disabilities in this fashion aligns with earlier Supreme Court precedent and accounts for retributivist constraints that already exist in present day sentencing codes.  Proponents of rolling back collateral consequences should consider how utilizing desert principles as a constraint on punishment can alleviate the effects of collateral consequences on ex-offenders.

January 28, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Federal criminal justice reform is now law: What comes next?"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Hill commentary authored by Tim Head, the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. Here are excerpts:

Now that the FIRST STEP Act is law, the question becomes what is next at the federal level and what policy innovations can state governments develop to continue the national momentum toward a more efficient and effective justice system.

The next order of business for implementation of federal reform is for the U.S. Senate to confirm William Barr as Attorney General of the United States.  As Attorney General, Barr and his appointed lieutenants would be responsible for selecting a new director for the federal Bureau of Prisons and ensuring that the Bureau accurately administers the codified risk assessment system for low-level, non-violent offenders who are eligible for release, and provide these inmates with the programs to help them safely and successfully re-enter society upon their release.

While the sentencing reforms contained in the FIRST STEP Act were secondary to the prison reforms that are to be administered by the Department of Justice, further sentencing improvements are possible through the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  The independent Sentencing Commission issues guidelines for sentencing in all federal criminal cases.

Today, the Commission lacks a quorum to function in its duties to administer federal sentencing laws.  The acting chair, Judge William Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is currently awaiting renomination by the White House and confirmation by the Senate.  By once again making Judge Pryor the chair of the commission, the Trump administration and the Senate can follow through on the promises made by the passage of the FIRST STEP Act.

These nominations are necessary to ensure proper implementation of the provisions contained in the FIRST STEP Act and are essential to ensure the reforms championed by President Trump and reform leaders in Congress are delivered. However, despite the “ah-hah” moment that the federal government realized with the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, states must continue to lead the way as they have done for the past decade.

Many states have joined the chorus of justice reform begun by Texas, Georgia and South Carolina.  Ohio recently passed legislation to seal certain low-level criminal records and promote drug and alcohol treatment programs as alternatives to prison.  In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed the nation’s first "Clean Slate” law to seal records of offenders convicted of low-level, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses who do not incur further criminal charges over ten years.

Pennsylvania also removed one of the most challenging barriers for ex-offenders to safely and successfully re-enter society by eliminating automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses for low-level offenses.  Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and the state legislature enacted reforms to make it possible for former low-level inmates to attain occupational permits so they can work to support themselves and their families and turn away from crime.

The momentum achieved by state-level reforms made the FIRST STEP Act possible at the federal level.  States that have been slow to move have example after example of successful improvements in other states.  And now, in light of what President Trump and Congress have done to make the justice system more efficient and effective, it is vital to continue the cycle of reform across the country which has made our communities safer and restored lives at all levels.

January 28, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

A year after denial, Henry Montgomery (of Montgomery v. Louisiana) to get parole reconsideration by parole board

In every area of criminal law, as many are seeing in real time with the FIRST STEP Act, the implementation of any legal changes can be almost as important as the legal changes themselves.  The high-profile case of 72-year-old Henry Montgomery, who won in the Supreme Court with his claim that the landmark Eighth Amendment decision in Miller v. Alabama must be applied retroactively, continues to demonstrate this fact.  Though granted a chance at parole after serving more than 50 years on a murder charge as a teenager in the early 1960s, Montgomery was denied parole in February 2018 as detailed in this prior post

But now I see this local news piece reporting on the interesting next chapter in this remarkable case under the headline "Louisiana parole board to rehear case of man central to Supreme Court ruling on juvenile lifers."  Here are the details:

The Louisiana parole board in April will rehear the case of the 72-year-old Baton Rouge man central to the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision on juveniles sentenced to life without parole, granting him a new hearing less than a year after the board first denied his release from prison.

Henry Montgomery, who is serving a life sentence for the 1963 killing of East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Charles Hurt, will again go before a three-person panel of the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole after it accepted his request for reconsideration, the board's appeal-like process to reconsider previous decisions given certain circumstances, like a mistake, misconduct or new evidence. Montgomery's reconsideration hearing has been set for April 11....

"Henry Montgomery has been in prison for over 55 years, longer than any other juvenile lifer in Louisiana," said Andrew Hundley, the executive director of the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that represents juvenile lifers in their parole hearings and helps them readjust to free society. "We feel strongly that he is a deserving candidate for a second chance and would be a productive member of society, if given the opportunity."

In Louisiana, there were about 300 so-called juvenile lifers in prison, like Montgomery, amounting to the nation's third highest such population. Since the decision in 2016, about 35 juvenile lifers have been released on parole, according to the nonprofit Louisiana Parole Project, all having met certain parameters set out by state law, including having served at least 25 years and completed educational and rehabilitative classes, and having received a unanimous vote from the parole board.

Montgomery, however, has remained in the minority of such cases that have come up for a parole hearing, denied his shot at freedom by the parole board last February, with two of the three board members voting no. The two members cited the small number of classes Montgomery had completed during his decades at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Typically, prisoners have to wait two years after a denial to apply for a new parole hearing, but a decision reconsideration can be granted if an offender alleges, and the board substantiates, misconduct by a board member, a procedural error or significant new evidence that was not previously available, according to the parole board's policy on reconsideration. While Montgomery's lawyer, Keith Nordyke, filed their initial motion for reconsideration under seal, he said their argument focused on how the board misapplied the law relative to juvenile lifers when deciding Montgomery's case. A seasoned parole board attorney, Nordyke said he only files for reconsideration if he believes a major mistake had been made.

"It's a big deal," Nordyke said of the board's decision to grant Montgomery a new hearing, but noted that he does not believe the decision has any larger implications for other juvenile lifers' cases. "I really believe that all these cases are taken one-on-one, on their merit," Nordyke said.

Francis Abbott, the executive director of the Louisiana Board on Pardons and Parole, said the Montgomery reconsideration decision was made by looking at board policy, but Abbott declined to answer specific questions about the decision. The board policy, updated in 2017, outlines specific considerations for parole committee members when hearing the case of a youthful offender, saying that members "shall give great weight to the fact that youth are less responsible than adults for their actions."

This article from a few months ago from the same news source highlights how Louisiana trails other states like Michigan and Pennsylvania with large juvenile LWOP populations in the number of juve offenders who have secured parole since there Supreme Court determined that Miller had to be applied retroactively.

January 28, 2019 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 27, 2019

Hiring initiative highlights how private employers can take a next step after FIRST STEP Act

This new CBNC article, headlined "Koch network leads coalition urging businesses to hire former inmates," reports on a notable new initiative that serves as a fitting private-sector follow-up on the FIRST STEP Act and similar state level reforms. Here are the details:

A broad coalition of business groups is pledging to hire workers with criminal backgrounds in the wake of a new federal law aimed at reducing incarcerations.

The movement is spearheaded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who enlisted the support of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the National Restaurant Association and the American Staffing Association have signed on as well. Together, the groups represent businesses that employ roughly 60 percent of the American workforce.

"As business people, we have so many opportunities we aren't even aware of to make our country better and help people improve their lives. This is one of them," Koch said in a statement. "I challenge all of us, as business leaders, to take this important next step together."...

The Koch network has long pushed to overhaul the nation's criminal justice system. The group met with President Donald Trump at the White House last spring on the issue, leveraged relationships with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make a deal. The result was a rare bipartisan bill that Congress passed last year, just days before the government shutdown began.

The First Step Act reduces prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses and gives judges more discretion in setting those sentences. It also eliminates the "three-strikes" rule that imposed a mandatory life sentence for three or more drug convictions. The sentence is now 25 years.

The legislation could also have an impact on the nation's workforce, with roughly 650,000 people released from prison each year. SHRM Chief Executive Johnny Taylor said businesses have a responsibility to ensure former inmates have the opportunity to find a job and stay out of jail.

"Legislation is interesting, but it ultimately only matters if it results in behavioral change," Taylor said. "We can have a narrative around the importance of hiring the formerly incarcerated, and it really can all fall apart if employers -- primarily HR professionals -- don't make it happen."

The new business coalition is committing to using SHRM's guidelines for recruiting and hiring workers with criminal backgrounds. Taylor said it includes best practices for identifying candidates even before they are released from prison and having open discussions about the past....

The move also comes as businesses struggle to fill open jobs amid a shortage of workers. According to government data, there are nearly 6.9 million open positions, but only 6.3 million people who are unemployed. That means even if everyone were hired, business would still come up short....

"If all of us got fully engaged, think of the difference we could make to create second chances, reduce crime and poverty, and improve the quality of life for so many people," Koch said in a statement.

January 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison"

The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.  Here is how the report's introduction begins:

In 2016, more than 626,000 people were released from federal and state prisons and returned to communities across the United States.  Their odds of securing employment, housing, and other necessities after release depended, in part, on opportunities available to them while in prison.  Few such opportunities benefit incarcerated people as much as a postsecondary education — a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma.  Most incarcerated people lack the financial resources to pay for postsecondary schooling.

Thus, the opportunity for them to earn a postsecondary credential while in prison depends in large part on public funding, which has been scarce since the mid-1990s. They face a significant failure of public policy: education is a road toward improving their lives when they leave prison that the current system makes it all but impossible to reach.

It was not always this way.

The Federal Pell Grant Program, authorized in 1972, provided financial support for education for low-income undergraduate students, including people in prison. By the early 1990s, there were more than 770 postsecondary programs in nearly 1,300 prisons.  But in 1994, as policymakers adopted more punitive approaches to the rising crime rate, Congress revoked incarcerated students’ access to Pell Grants with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. 

For a quarter-century, people in prison have lacked a reliable or consistent funding source for postsecondary education.  This absence of funding has translated into fewer educational opportunities for incarcerated people, contributing to the challenges they face on reentry.  Because they often have limited educational attainment before entering prison, formerly incarcerated people face profound challenges in the job market without additional education and skills.  Many remain locked in a cycle of poverty and potential recidivism.  Furthermore, the negative ripple effect through the economy is significant, including fewer skilled workers available to employers and increased incarceration costs for states as a result of high recidivism rates.

This vicious cycle has affected larger numbers of people as U.S. incarceration rates have ballooned: consider that from 1972 to 2010, the prison population increased by 700 percent.  As of this writing, there are more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons.

In recent years, state legislatures and the federal government have taken steps to end mass incarceration and adopt a “smart-on-crime” approach to criminal justice policy that includes decriminalization, sentencing reform, and greater investments in reentry.  Despite this progress, policymakers have not yet moved to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated people.  Doing so must be part of the next phase of criminal justice reform.

January 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)