Friday, February 23, 2024

Notable new analysis of notable (old) data on prison admissions

The data on prison admissions (from 2021) reported in this new Crime and Justice News item caught my eye this afternoon.  Here are the details:

A new analysis from the Council of State Government Justice Center found that despite recent declines, parole-probation violators still make up a large proportion of new prison admissions. In 2021, 44% of state prison admission were people who violated the terms of their parole or probation sentences. And on any given day, 1 in 4 people in state prison were incarcerated because they violated the terms of their supervision. Those proportions have remained constant, even as overall numbers have decreased....

Incarceration for violations of supervision declined in 2020 and, in many states, continued to drop in 2021.  Ten states — Colorado, Minnesota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Kansas, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Vermont — reduced admissions by 50% or more.  The declines are part of a larger trend: from 2018 to 2021, across the country, the numbers of prison admissions from community supervision decreased by one-third. Part of that was due to decreased criminal activity during the height of the pandemic, with the exception of homicides and intimate-partner violence. It was also affected by changes in supervision practices and court backlogs.

Researchers examining those states where supervision incarcerations fell — and where they didn’t — have found no significant relationship between changes in the number of people incarcerated for supervision violations and changes in violent-crime rates at state levels.  But in 2021, states collectively spent more than $10 billion incarcerating probation-parole violators. More than $3 billion of that was for technical violations, not for new criminal activity....

Racial disparities begin prior to criminal-justice-system contact and persist at all stages of the system.  When looking at parole and disparities, 18 states — including much of the Deep South —  did not exhibit disparities in revocation rates, while 20 states increased the disparities.  Twelve states — including Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — reincarcerated Black parolees at a 20% or higher rate.

February 23, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, February 19, 2024

In praise of efforts to develop the new "Real-Time Crime Index"

I am excited to see this new Substack entry from Jeff Asher talking up the development of a new crime data resource. Here is part of the start of the posting (with links from the original):

One of the greatest challenges to understanding crime trends is that data is frequently old and stale by the time it is received. Imagine only learning about the Texas Rangers winning the 2023 World Series winner 9 months after the last out.  That’s essentially the world of crime trends.

The solution to date for crime data has been to collect data from dozens or hundreds of cities that make it publicly available in order to guesstimate what’s happening nationally.  That’s what our YTD murder dashboard attempts to do and it’s also how groups like the Council on Criminal Justice and Major Cities Chiefs Association approach the problem.

The advantages of this methodology are clear: it's fast, it uses publicly available data, and it's reasonably predictive of the national trend.  The disadvantages are equally clear: the data that individual agencies publish is not standardized, there's a decent sized margin of error — especially when the sample is smaller, you’re stuck doing YTD comparisons which aren’t particularly useful for a good chunk of the year, and going beyond murder boosts the difficulty quite a bit.

All of those problems will hopefully be a thing of the past as we start to build a new project called the Real-Time Crime Index (RTCI).  The RTCI is being undertaken thanks to a grant from Arnold Ventures with the objective of creating a repository of crime data from 500 to 1,000 cities that is updated monthly.  The goal is to more or less mimic what BLS does with employment data to create an understanding of national crime trends in as close to real-time as possible.

This project is being done in collaboration with FBI and BJS — the nation’s arbiters of crime data — with a goal of eventually transitioning stewardship of the RTCI to the Federal government by the end of the grant.

Regular readers will not be suprised to hear that I would also love to see a Real-Time Sentencng Data project in the works, but that would be another remarkably hard data project.  Getting lots more real-time crime data would be a great achievement, and I wish the folks working on the RTCI all the best in their important and valuable endeavors.

February 19, 2024 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2024

US Sentencing Commission publishes two public data briefings to inform comments on some proposed guideline amendments

I was intrigued to discover that the US Sentencing Commission's website today announces "Data Briefings on Proposed Amendments" to announce the publishing of "supplemental data to inform public comment on recently proposed amendments relating to youthful individuals and simplification."  This webpage, in turn, links to two distinct briefing pages that are introduced this way:

Supplemental Data: 2024 Proposed Amendment Relating to Simplification

The Commission is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines.  In order to further inform commenters, the charts below depict data relating to application of departure provisions other than §5K1.1 or §5K3.1 (either alone or in conjunction with §5K1.1 or §5K3.1), i.e., "Other Departure."

Public Data Briefing: 2024 Proposed Amendment Relating to Youthful Individuals

The Commission is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. Commission staff prepared a data presentation to inform public comment on a two-part proposed amendment related to youthful individuals. This briefing presents data on the impact of juvenile adjudications on criminal history scoring and sentencing outcomes to help inform public comment.

Disappointingly, the USSC has not yet published any detailed data concerning its proposed amendment to the Guidelines Manual that includes three options to address the use of acquitted conduct for purposes of determining a sentence.  I am not sure if the lack of data on this front bodes well or ill for guideline reforms on that front.

February 12, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Vera Institute produces big new report on "People on Electronic Monitoring"

The Vera Institute today released this lengthy new report, titled simply "People on Electronic Monitoring" and authored by Jess Zhang, Jacob Kang-Brown and Ari Kotler.  Here is the "Summary" that begins this 54-page report:

Electronic monitoring (EM) is a form of digital surveillance that tracks people’s physical location, movement, or other markers of behavior (such as blood alcohol level).  It is commonly used in the criminal legal system as a condition of pretrial release or post-conviction supervision — including during probation, parole, home confinement, or work release. The United States also uses electronic monitoring for people in civil immigration proceedings who are facing deportation.

This report fills a gap in understanding around the size and scope of EM use in the United States.  The Vera Institute of Justice’s (Vera) estimates reveal that, in 2021, 254,700 adults were under some form of EM.  Of these, 150,700 people were subjected to EM by the criminal legal system and 103,900 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Further investigation revealed that the number of adults placed on EM by ICE more than tripled between 2021 and 2022, increasing to 360,000.  This means that the total number of adults on EM across both the civil immigration and criminal legal systems likely increased to nearly half a million during that time.

From 2005 to 2021, the number of people on EM in the United States grew nearly fivefold — and almost tenfold by 2022 — while the number of people incarcerated in jails and prisons declined by 16 percent and the number of people held in ICE civil detention increased but not nearly as dramatically as EM.  Regional trends in the criminal legal system reveal how EM has been used more widely in some states and cities but increased sharply from 2019 to 2021 across the country: The Midwest has the highest rate of state and local criminal legal system EM, at 65 per 100,000 residents; this rate stayed relatively constant from 2019 to midyear 2021.  In the Northeast, EM rates are the lowest of all the regions at 19 per 100,000 residents, but they increased by 46 percent from 2019 to 2021.  The South and West have similar rates, 41 and 34 per 100,000 residents respectively, but the growth rate in the South has outpaced that of the West in recent years — up 32 percent in the South compared to 18 percent in the West.

Prior to this report, the most recent estimate of the national EM population was from a 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts study — which studied the use of criminal legal system EM via a survey of the 11 biggest EM companies.  For this report, Vera researchers collected data from criminal legal system agencies in all 50 states and more than 500 counties, as well as from federal courts, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and ICE.  Therefore, Vera’s study represents the most comprehensive count of the national EM population to date, as it accounts for the rise of smaller EM companies, immigration system surveillance, and new EM technologies.

For this report, Vera researchers also reviewed existing literature and spoke with local officials to better understand the impacts of EM programs.  Vera’s findings contradict private companies’ assertions that EM technology is low-cost, efficient, and reliable.  EM in the criminal legal system is highly variable and subject to political decisions at the local level. In many jurisdictions, EM is not used as a means to reduce jail populations.  Rather, it is often a crucial component of highly punitive criminal legal systems.  This challenges the dominant narrative that EM is an “alternative to incarceration.”  Nonetheless, this report also highlights several jurisdictions that demonstrate how decarceration can occur alongside reduced surveillance.

January 30, 2024 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 21, 2024

"Heterogeneous Impacts of Sentencing Decisions"

The title of this post is the title of this empirical paper authored by Andrew Jordan, Ezra Karger and Derek Neal now available as a National Bureau of Economic Research (NEBR) Working Paper.  Here is the paper's abstract:

We examine 70,581 felony court cases filed in Chicago, IL, from 1990–2007.  We exploit case randomization to assess the impact of judge assignment and sentencing decisions on the arrival of new charges.  We find that, in marginal cases, incarceration creates large and lasting reductions in recidivism among first offenders.  Yet, among marginal repeat offenders, incarceration creates only short-run incapacitation effects and no lasting reductions in the incidence of new felony charges.  These treatment-impact differences inform ongoing legal debates concerning the merits of sentencing rules that recommend leniency for first offenders while encouraging or mandating incarceration sentences for many repeat offenders.  We show that methods that fail to estimate separate outcome equations for first versus repeat offenders or fail to model judge-specific sentencing tendencies separately for cases involving first versus repeat offenders produce misleading results for first offenders.

January 21, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Detailed case processing data in new BJS report on "Federal Justice Statistics, 2022"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released this new report, titled "Federal Justice Statistics, 2022," which describes and provides data on criminal case processing in the federal system, including investigations, arrests, prosecutions and declinations, convictions and acquittals, sentencing, probation and supervised release, and imprisonment.  This document has an extraordinary amount of interesting data, and here is just a slice of some of the sentencing particulars:

Of the 65,470 defendants convicted in U.S. district court in FY 2022, more than three-quarters (77%) were sentenced to prison. The remainder received probation only (8%), a fine only (2%), or a suspended sentence (14%). Persons most likely to receive prison terms were those convicted of violent (93%), drug (89%), or weapons (89%) felonies. Seventeen percent of persons convicted of a misdemeanor received a prison sentence in FY 2022....

Convicted defendants received a median sentence of 110 months in prison for a violent offense, 70 months for a drug offense, and 60 months for a nonregulatory public order offense. The median prison term for immigration defendants convicted of a felony was 13 months....

Convicted males (80%) were sentenced to prison more often than convicted females (62%). Twenty percent of convicted females received a probation-only sentence, compared to 6% of convicted males. Convicted defendants who were black (85%) were the most likely to receive a prison sentence, followed by those who were American Indian or Alaska Native (84%); white (78%); Hispanic (74%); and Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander (66%). Among those sentenced to prison, white and black defendants were both sentenced to a median of 60 months.  The median age of defendants convicted in FY 2022 was 36 years....

January 18, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 13, 2024

US Sentencing Commission releases data briefing on proposed youthful offender guideline amendments

On January 12, 2024, the US Sentencing Commission posted here what is described as "Public Data Briefing: 2024 Proposed Amendment Relating to Youthful Individuals." On this webpage, one can find a 20-minute video with USSC staff discussing lots of intricate criminal history and other sentencing data (which also can be found on these presentation slides).  Here is how the Commission contextualizes this presentation:

The Commission is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines.  Commission staff prepared a data presentation to inform public comment on a two-part proposed amendment related to youthful individuals.  This briefing presents data on the impact of juvenile adjudications on criminal history scoring and sentencing outcomes to help inform public comment.

January 13, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 05, 2024

A more detailed accounting of Jan 6 riot sentencings

In this post yesterday, I noted a new New York Times review and accounting of the prosecutions of January 6 rioters three years after their misdeeds.   A helpful reader alerted me to this new Washington Post piece which provides an even more detailed accounting of sentencing outcomes for this large group of federal defendants.  The WaPo piece is headlined "Most Jan. 6 defendants get time behind bars, but less than U.S. seeks," and here are excerpts from a lengthy article worth reading in full:

Judges have ordered prison time for nearly every defendant convicted of a felony and some jail time to about half of those convicted of misdemeanors.

But in the vast majority of the more than 700 sentencings to date, judges have issued punishments below government guidelines and prosecutors’ requests. Though more than 60 percent of the defendants sentenced so far have received jail or prison terms, the judges have gone below federal sentencing guidelines in 67 percent of the cases, Post data shows. Nationally, federal judges go below the advisory guidelines about 51 percent of the time, according to federal statistics....

Sentencings greatly increased in 2023, with nearly 370 defendants sentenced in one year, after less than 360 were sentenced in the previous two years. And the percentage of people receiving terms of incarceration increased from 56 percent to 64 percent as more serious felony cases were completed.

For those charged with lesser misdemeanors, about half received a jail sentence averaging 58 days, while about a third received probation and 18 percent were ordered to spend time in home confinement. The incarceration rate for Jan. 6 misdemeanants is higher than for other federal misdemeanants because it came in the context of a mob assault that helped make the breach possible. For those convicted of felonies, 94 percent were ordered behind bars, a consistent rate every year.

Of 244 felony sentencings for all charges, the average sentence has been 41 months, or about 3½ years, The Post’s data shows. For those who pleaded guilty, the average felony sentence is now about 2½ years, but those who were convicted at trial received an average of 5 years in prison....

The average sentence for those convicted of assaulting a police officer is more than 45 months, The Post’s data shows. The average sentence for those convicted of obstructing an official proceeding has been 39 months. Nearly 400 defendants have been placed on probation, either as their full sentence or after their incarceration, for periods that extend beyond this November’s presidential election....

The sentencings by the 15 judges appointed by Democratic presidents are not much different from the nine appointed by Republicans. Those appointed by Democrats have imposed jail or prison sentences in 65 percent of the cases, compared with 63 percent of cases sentenced by Republican appointees, according to Post data....

Four Trump appointees have imposed incarceration in 57 percent of cases, compared with 67 percent for nine Obama appointees and three George W. Bush appointees. Three Biden appointees have imposed jail or prison only 20 percent of the time, but they have heard only 30 cases and four felonies. Only one active judge has sent every single defendant to jail or prison: Tanya S. Chutkan, the judge handling the D.C. prosecution of Trump, has ordered all 39 of her defendants behind bars.

January 5, 2024 in Celebrity sentencings, Data on sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, January 01, 2024

Chief Justice briefly mentions sentencing in AI discussion in his annual year-end report

The Chief Justice of the United States always closes out a calendar year by releasing a year-end report on the federal judiciary.  The 2023 version of this report has an intriguing disquisition on the Federal Judiciary's "steps into the modern era of information technology."  The whole essay is worth a read, and here are snippets:

As 2023 draws to a close with breathless predictions about the future of Artificial Intelligence, some may wonder whether judges are about to become obsolete.  I am sure we are not — but equally confident that technological changes will continue to transform our work....

At its core, AI combines algorithms and enormous data sets to solve problems.  Its many forms and applications include the facial recognition we use to unlock our smart phones and the voice recognition we use to direct our smart televisions.  Law professors report with both awe and angst that AI apparently can earn Bs on law school assignments and even pass the bar exam. Legal research may soon be unimaginable without it....

Many professional tennis tournaments, including the US Open, have replaced line judges with optical technology to determine whether 130 mile per hour serves are in or out.  These decisions involve precision to the millimeter.  And there is no discretion; the ball either did or did not hit the line.  By contrast, legal determinations often involve gray areas that still require application of human judgment.

Machines cannot fully replace key actors in court.  Judges, for example, measure the sincerity of a defendant’s allocution at sentencing.  Nuance matters: Much can turn on a shaking hand, a quivering voice, a change of inflection, a bead of sweat, a moment’s hesitation,a fleeting break in eye contact. And most people still trust humans more than machines to perceive and draw the right inferences from these clues.

In addition to notable tech talk, the 2023 year-end report includes federal court caseload data in an appendix.  Here are some data excerpts that might interest federal criminal justice fans:

Criminal appeals were down three percent from the prior year to 9,649....  Prisoner petitions accounted for 23 percent of appeals filings (a total of 9,089), and 87 percent of prisoner petitions were filed pro se, compared with 36 percent of other civil filings....

The federal district courts docketed 66,027 criminal defendant filings (excluding transfers) in FY 2023, a reduction of three percent from the prior year.  The largest categories were filings for defendants accused of immigration offenses, which increased three percent to 19,645, and filings for defendants charged with drug offenses, which fell 8 percent to 18,103....

A total of 122,824 persons were under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2023, a decrease of less than 1 percent from the prior year.  Of that number, 110,112 were serving terms of supervised release after leaving correctional institutions, an increase of less than 1 percent from FY 2022.  Cases activated in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversions, fell three percent to 71,297.

January 1, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 29, 2023

"Abolish or Reform? An Analysis of Post-Release Supervision for Low-Level Offenders"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Ryan Sakoda now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

At year-end 2021, there were nearly four million individuals serving a term of probation, parole, or post-release supervision in the United States.  This paper uses a unique and detailed dataset to study two distinct changes to state law that eliminated and then reinstated post-release supervision for low-level offenders in Kansas.  Each of these changes occurred in very different periods of criminal justice policy (2000 and 2013 respectively), but yielded the same result: post-release supervision caused large increases in reimprisonment with no detectable impact on reoffending.

I find that the elimination of post-release supervision in 2000 decreased the one-year reimprisonment rate of affected individuals by 28.5 percentage points (from a baseline of 35 percent).  In 2013, the reinstatement of post-release supervision caused a 17.5 percentage point increase in reimprisonment (bringing the reimprisonment rate back to approximately 30 percent) with no detectable decrease in reoffending.  Furthermore, I find that the elimination of post-release supervision in 2000 completely closed the racial gap in reimprisonment rates among the impacted individuals.  These results provide support for policies that would reduce the use of community supervision, not only to lower reincarceration rates, but as a promising opportunity to eliminate a major source of racial inequality in the criminal legal system.

December 29, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

New Prison Policy Initiative briefing explores reported 2022 increase in incarcerated persons in US

Over at the Prison Policy Initiative, Wendy Sawyer has this new briefing titled "Why did prison and jail populations grow in 2022 — and what comes next?".  Like so many PPI reports, this one st filled with interesting data and helpful graphics.  It begins this way (link from the original):

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) recently released its annual reports on prison and jail populations in 2022, noting that the combined state and federal prison populations had increased for the first time in almost a decade and that jail populations had reached 90% of their pre-pandemic level. But what’s behind these trends? Do they just reflect another year of post-pandemic “rebound” or longer-term changes in crime or punishment? And what do these trends suggest about the road ahead for those working to end mass incarceration?

To answer these questions, we looked closely at the annual BJS data as well as 2022 crime and victimization data and criminal court case processing to get a better idea of the reasons behind the new numbers. We also looked at some more recent 2023 jail and prison data to see whether the 2022 uptick appears to have continued in 2023 (spoiler: it does). Finally, we looked at reports from over 20 states to see how states themselves understand these trends, and where they foresee their correctional populations heading in the future.

Ultimately, we conclude that these populations are increasing and can be expected to continue to climb in the next few years, not because of changes in crime but because (a) courts have largely recovered from the slowdowns caused by the pandemic and (b) many states have rolled back sensible criminal legal system reforms — or worse, have enacted legislation that will keep more people behind bars longer, despite decades of evidence that such policies don’t enhance public safety.

December 20, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases new report on "Education Levels of Federally Sentenced Individuals"

The US Sentencing Commission this week released this notable new research report titled "Education Levels of Federally Sentenced Individuals." This latest report is summarized on this USSC webpage, which also sets forth "Key Findings," in this way:

The Commission has previously published reports on the relationship between demographic factors and sentencing, but none have focused specifically on the educational attainment of federally sentenced individuals.  The federal sentencing guidelines provide that specific characteristics of sentenced individuals, such as education, may be considered at sentencing; yet there is little information published that examines differences across education levels.  This report provides an analysis of the federally sentenced individuals in fiscal year 2021 by educational attainment...

  • Most federally sentenced U.S. citizens had a high school degree (42.3%) or never graduated high school (28.4%).
  • The types of offenses committed by federally sentenced U.S. citizens varied by educational attainment.
    • For those with less than a high school degree, drug trafficking (42.0%) was the most common offense, followed by firearms (25.2%), immigration (11.5%), robbery (4.2%), and fraud (4.1%).
    • Sentenced individuals with an undergraduate or graduate degree were convicted more often for economic or sex offenses than sentenced persons with less education. Approximately one-third (32.9%) of sentenced individuals with an undergraduate degree were convicted of a fraud offense.
    • Similarly, fraud (42.2%) was the most common offense of conviction among federally sentenced persons with a graduate degree, though medical doctors were equally likely to commit fraud (37.6%) or drug trafficking (36.5%).
  • Federally sentenced U.S. citizens with more educational attainment had less extensive criminal histories than sentenced persons in lower educational attainment groups.
  • Sentencing outcomes for federally sentenced U.S. citizens varied by educational attainment.
    • Sentenced individuals with more educational attainment were more likely to receive probation.
    • Sentenced persons with more educational attainment were more likely to receive a sentence below the applicable guideline range.
    • Federally sentenced individuals with more educational attainment received sentences that on average were further below the applicable guideline range than those with lower educational attainment.
  • Whether the degree was key to the facilitation of the offense varied considerably by type of graduate degree.
    • A substantial majority of medical doctors (85.6%) and sentenced individuals with graduate degrees in nursing (82.1%) required their degree to commit the offense.
    • In contrast, 29.3 percent of lawyers required their degree to commit the offense, and 27.5 percent received a § 3B1.3 enhancement.

December 19, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Sentencing Project produces new fact sheets on "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Youth Incarceration"

I received via email an alter that The Sentencing Project has produced "new fact sheets show state-by-state incarceration rates by race and ethnicity" with respect to "youth incarceration."  These facts sheets are accessible at this link, and here is how the work is described at that webpage:

Despite significant drops in youth incarceration over a decade, youth of color remain vastly more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers.  New data released today by The Sentencing Project reveal Black youth and Tribal youths’ disproportionate incarceration is largely unchanged compared to 10 years prior, while Latinx youths’ incarceration disparities with their white peers have been reduced.

The Sentencing Project’s new fact sheets show state-by-state incarceration rates by race and ethnicity and highlight where the problem is getting worse and better.

December 12, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2023

Highlighting the many challenges in assessing recidivism data

Stateline has this effective (and evergreen) article on the difficulties surrounding recedivism data.  The full healine of this piece highlights its themes: "How many inmates return to prison? Inconsistent reporting makes it hard to tell. States define recidivism differently, which can result in misleading interpretations of the statistics." Here are excerpts:

Several states this year have reported lower rates of recidivism, showing that fewer convicted criminals are being re-arrested after leaving prison.  But those statistics hardly tell the full story.

Recidivism rates across the country can vary greatly because of how they’re defined, how the data is collected and how it’s presented to the public.  So it can be difficult to say that, for example, one state is doing better than another in rehabilitating formerly incarcerated residents....

Most states measure recidivism by tracking former inmates who were held in state prisons or facilities and return to the state prison system within three years.  Experts say the absence of a national standard makes it challenging to compare jurisdictions and programs....

In recidivism studies, the act of reoffending may be defined differently.  It can, for example, include violating parole, being arrested, being convicted of a crime or returning to prison.  Some studies consider all these outcomes as recidivism, while others count only one or two. 

Some states only consider felonies as recidivism, excluding less serious misdemeanors that may result in local jail time rather than a state prison sentence.  And states vary in categorizing crimes as felonies or misdemeanors, adding even more complexity....  States also are inconsistent in the time periods covered by recidivism studies.  Most include new offenses within three to five years; others examine a much shorter time frame, such as six months to a year....

Official data also can miss counting former prisoners who break the law but go undetected.  This is why some criminologists argue that recidivism studies should include self-reports of criminal behavior and differentiate among various types of recidivism, such as violent crimes, property crimes and technical violations....

Some advocates say that using alternative factors such as employment or housing provides much better indicators of success after being released from prison. “Recidivism by itself is not a true measure of the success of reentry programming or of incarceration rates,” said Ann Fisher, the executive director of Virginia CARES, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated people in Virginia. “It’s just not a true picture.”

A 2022 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests pairing recidivism rates with indicators that capture progress away from crime, such as reductions in the seriousness of criminal activity or an increased duration between release and a criminal act, known as “desistance.”  The report also recommends developing new measures of post-release success that consider factors such as personal well-being, education, employment, housing, family and social supports, health, civic and community engagement and legal involvement.

December 11, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Lots of (little?) stories in USSC's FY 2023 fourth quarter sentencing data release

Late last week, the US Sentencing Commission released on its website this latest quarterly data report, labelled "4th Quarter Release, Preliminary Fiscal Year 2023 Data Through September 30, 2023."  These new data provide the latest accounting of federal sentencings, and this latest data run seems to reflects the impact of the USSC 2023 guideline amendments.  Technically, the new guidelines did not become effective until November 1, 2023.  But the pending guidelines  — which, inter alia, changed some criminal history rules to benefit defendants — likely explains why Figure 2 shows a decline in the number of sentences imposed over the summer.  I suspect some judges delayed some sentencings until the new guidelines were effective.  Similarly, Figure 3 shows a record high number of variances in the last quarter, likely because some judges went forward with sentencings this summer and gave defendants the benefit of pending guidelines through a variance.

As I have noted before, a big COVID era trend was a historically large number of below-guideline variances, and this trend has now persisted over the last 13 quarters of official USSC data (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  I continue to believe this trend is mostly a facet of the different caseload and case mixes.  As I have also flagged before, for anyone who has long followed federal sentencing data and debates, the USSC's latest data on drug sentencing reflected in Figures 11 and 12 are especially striking.  These figures show, nearly half of all federal drug sentencings last fiscal year involved methamphetamine (roughly 9000 total), whereas fewer than 1000 crack defendants and fewer than 600 marijuana defendants were sentenced in federal court in FY 2023.

Finally, these fiscal year data provide just another reminder of the scope of the federal sentencing system.  The data show around 63,500 total sentences imposed in FY23, of with 92.5% included an imprisonment term.  These data mean that in an average week, an average of over 1,200 persons receive a federal sentence, and of those over 1,100 are being sentenced to federal prison.  

December 3, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 01, 2023

DPIC releases year-end report emphasizing small number of executing and death sentencing states in 2023

The Death Penalty Information Center this morning released its annual report here under the heading "The Death Penalty in 2023: Year End Report Only Five States Conducted Executions and Seven States Imposed New Death Sentences in 2023, the Lowest Number of States in 20 Years." Here is the part of the report's introduction, with lots of data and details following thereafter:

This year is the 9th consecutive year with fewer than 30 people executed (24) and fewer than 50 people sentenced to death (21, as of December 1). The 23 men and one woman who were executed in 2023 were the oldest average age (tied with 2021) and spent the longest average number of years in prison in the modern death penalty era before being executed. As in previous years, most prisoners had significant physical and mental health issues at the time of their executions, some of which can be attributed to the many years they spent in severe isolation on death row. Continued difficulties obtaining lethal injection drugs led some states to explore new, untested methods of execution or revive previously abandoned methods. Other states enacted or continued pauses on executions while the state’s method of execution was studied....

The Supreme Court granted only one stay of execution, reflecting the view of some members of the Court that prisoners bring “last-minute claims that will delay the execution, no matter how groundless.” The Court granted certiorari in only four death penalty cases, all of which pertained to procedural issues, and turned away the overwhelming majority of petitions filed by death-sentenced prisoners. Some state officials and legislatures may once again feel unrestrained by the risk of judicial oversight or correction; Florida directly flouted Supreme Court precedent with new legislation making a non-homicide crime a death-eligible offense, while states like Alabama announced plans to use nitrogen gas in an untested, risky method of execution.

December 1, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Federal Prisoner Statistics Collected Under the First Step Act, 2023"

Providing another report for prison data junkies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics today released this 26-page report titled ""Federal Prisoner Statistics Collected Under the First Step Act, 2023." Here the report's introduction and some of the "Key findings" that seemed most interesting:

The First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), through its National Prisoner Statistics program, to collect data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on specific topics and to report these data annually. BJS is required to report on selected characteristics of persons in prison, including marital, veteran, citizenship, and English-speaking status; education levels; medical conditions; and participation in treatment programs. In addition, BJS is required to report facility-level statistics, such as the number of assaults on staff by prisoners, prisoners’ violations of rules that resulted in time credit reductions, and selected facility characteristics including accreditation, on-site healthcare, remote learning, video conferencing, and costs of prisoners’ phone calls.

Collected in 2023, the statistics in this report are for calendar year 2022, which represented the fourth full year of reporting under the FSA. Data for calendar year 2023 will be available from the BOP in 2024. Unless otherwise noted, all counts in this report include persons held in federal correctional facilities operated by the BOP (122 institutional facilities).

  • The federal prison population increased about 1%, from 156,542 at yearend 2021 to 158,637 at yearend 2022.

  • At yearend 2022, there were 8,627 persons with prior military service in BOP facilities, accounting for about 5% of the total federal prison population.

  • The number of non-U.S. citizens in federal prison at yearend 2022 was 24,078, virtually unchanged from 2020 and 2021....

  • Seventy percent of persons in BOP facilities at yearend 2022 had earned a high school diploma, general equivalency degree (GED), or other equivalent certificate prior to their admission to federal prison (110,531), and an additional 3,543 earned their GED credential or equivalent certificate during 2022.

  • In 2022, there were 10,177 instances of persons in special housing units, a 10% increase from 2021 (9,261)....

  • In 2022, 20,880 federal prisoners participated in a nonresidential substance use disorder treatment program, while 12,035 participated in a residential program....

  • In 2022, there were 80,490 prohibited acts committed by persons incarcerated in federal prisons....

  • In 2022, BOP staff were physically assaulted by federal prisoners 965 times, which resulted in serious injuries 19 times and 12 prosecutions of prisoners....

  • The BOP partnered with 1,580 external groups to provide recidivism reduction programming in 122 federal prison facilities in 2022.

  • Sixty percent (947) of the BOP’s partnerships that were in place in 2022 to provide recidivism reduction programming were with faith-based groups.

  • Of the 145,062 persons in federal prison as of December 31, 2022 assessed with the BOP’s recidivism risk tool, the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN), 54% were classified as minimum or low risk for recidivism, 27% were classified as high risk for recidivism, and 19% as medium risk at yearend 2022.

  • In 2022, PATTERN classified a higher percentage of females than males as minimum or low risk for recidivism (81% compared to 52%).

  • As of December 31, 2022, PATTERN classified 61% of black and 59% of American Indian or Alaska Native federal prisoners as a medium or high risk of recidivism, compared to 36% of white and 27% of Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander prisoners.

  • In 2022, PATTERN classified 83% of federal prisoners ages 55 to 64 and 93% of those age 65 or older as having a minimum or low risk of recidivism.

  • In 2022, the BOP identified 41 Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction (EBRR) Programs and 52 Productive Activities (PAs) that persons in federal prison could access for various needs, including antisocial behavior, anger management, substance abuse, parenting skills, and dyslexia.

November 30, 2023 in Data on sentencing, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (34)

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Prisoners in 2022 – Statistical Tables"

Via email, I learned that the Bureau of Justice Statistics today released its latest yearly accounting of US prison populations titled "Prisoners in 2022 – Statistical Tables." The first page of the 48-page document provides this overview and "highlights":

At yearend 2022, correctional authorities in the United States had jurisdiction over 1,230,100 persons in state or federal prisons, an increase of 2% or 25,100 persons from yearend 2021 (1,205,100 persons) (figure 1). This rise erased the 1% decline reported in 2021 and marked the first increase in the combined state and federal prison population in almost a decade (since 2013). The number of persons held under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) grew 1% (up 2,000 persons) from 2021 to 2022, while the number held under the jurisdiction of state correctional authorities increased 2% (up 23,100).

Ninety-six percent of persons in U.S. prisons in 2022 were sentenced to more than 1 year under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities (1,185,600). Thirty-five states and the BOP showed growth in their sentenced prison populations from 2021 to 2022, with increases of at least 1,000 persons in eight states and the BOP.

  • The U.S. prison population was 1,230,100 at yearend 2022, a 2% increase from yearend 2021 (1,205,100).

  • The number of females in state or federal prison increased almost 5% from yearend 2021 (83,700) to yearend 2022 (87,800).

  • Nine states and the BOP increased their total prison populations by over 1,000 persons from yearend 2021 to yearend 2022.

  • State correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1,039,500 persons sentenced to at least 1 year in prison in 2022, while the BOP had legal authority over 146,100 persons with similar sentences.

  • At yearend 2022, an estimated 32% of sentenced state and federal prisoners were black; 31% were white; 23% were Hispanic; 2% were American Indian or Alaska Native; and 1% were Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander.

  • The imprisonment rate at yearend 2022 (355 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages) was down 26% from yearend 2012 (480 per 100,000) but up 1% from yearend 2021 (350 per 100,000).

  • In 2022, states and the BOP admitted 469,200 persons to prison, which was 20,800 more than they released that year (448,400) and 48,200 more than they admitted the year before (421,000).

November 30, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 17, 2023

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Capital Punishment, 2021 – Statistical Tables"

This morning the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics released this new report with notable national data on the administration of the death penalty in the United States through the end of 2021.  As I have noted in prior posts, though BJS is often the provider of the best available data on criminal justice administration, in the capital punishment arena the Death Penalty Information Center tends to have much more up-to-date and much more detailed data on capital punishment issues.  Still, this new BJS report provides notable and clear statistical snapshots about the death penalty in the United States, and the document sets out these initial "Key Findings":

November 17, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

New US Sentencing Commission releases new updated report on "Demographic Differences in Federal Sentencing"

USSC-Seal_vFFThe US Sentencing Commission this morning released this notable new research report titled "Demographic Differences in Federal Sentencing."  As noted in this 2020 post, the USSC has completed similar reports looking at federal sentencing outcomes and the way its advisory guidelines function about every five or six years since the Booker ruling, and this latest report is summarized on this USSC webpage in this way:

The Commission has studied the issue of demographic differences in sentencing throughout its history.  In four prior reports, studying various time periods, the Commission has examined whether differences in the length of federal sentences imposed on individuals were associated with demographic characteristics of those individuals. 

Based on continued interest in this issue and consistent with best practices, the Commission re-examined and refined the analytical methods used in its previous reports to better understand sentencing disparity in the federal courts. Using new analytical techniques and newly available data, this report examines federal sentencing practices in the five fiscal years after the 2017 report to determine if the differences observed in the Commission’s prior reports continued to persist. 

This report presents the results of that work, and furthers the Commission’s mandates to establish sentencing policies and practices that eliminate unwarranted sentencing disparities and to serve as a center for information on federal sentencing practices.

The USSC webpage also sets forth these "Key Findings":

Sentencing differences continued to exist across demographic groups when examining all sentences imposed during the five-year study period (fiscal years 2017-2021). These disparities were observed across demographic groups — both among males and females.

  • Specifically, Black males received sentences 13.4 percent longer, and Hispanic males received sentences 11.2 percent longer, than White males.
  • Hispanic females received sentences 27.8 percent longer than White females, while Other race females received sentences 10.0 percent shorter.

The sentencing differences in the data the Commission examined largely can be attributed to the initial decision of whether the sentence should include incarceration at all rather than to the length of the prison term once a decision to impose one has been made. In particular, the likelihood of receiving a probationary sentence varied substantially by gender and race.

  • Black males were 23.4 percent less likely, and Hispanic males were 26.6 percent less likely, to receive a probationary sentence compared to White males.
  • Similar trends were observed among females, with Black and Hispanic females less likely to receive a probation sentence than White females (11.2% percent less likely and 29.7% less likely, respectively).

The sentencing differences were less pronounced when the analyses focused solely on cases in which a sentence of imprisonment was imposed, which comprise 94 percent of all cases sentenced during the five-year study period.

  • Focusing solely on these cases, Black males received lengths of incarceration 4.7 percent longer, and Hispanic male received lengths of incarceration 1.9 percent longer, than White males.
  • There was little difference among females receiving a sentence of imprisonment. The only statistically significant difference in the length of imprisonment among females was among Hispanic females, who received lengths of incarceration 5.9 percent shorter than White females.

Differences in the length of imprisonment across demographic groups were concentrated among individuals who received relatively short sentences.

  • Among individuals sentenced to 18 months or less incarceration, Black males received lengths of incarceration 6.8 percent longer than White males. The difference narrowed to 1.3 percent for individuals who received sentences of greater than 18 months to 60 months; but for sentences longer than 60 months, Black males received lengths of incarceration approximately one percent shorter than White males. Few differences were statistically significant when comparing sentences for females.

Across all analyses, females received sentences that were shorter, on average, than males.

  • When examining all sentences imposed, females received sentences 29.2 percent shorter than males. Females of all races were 39.6 percent more likely to receive a probation sentence than males. When examining only sentences of incarceration, females received lengths of incarceration 11.3 percent shorter than males.

November 14, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (36)

Thursday, November 02, 2023

The Sentencing Project releases latest report on racial disparities, “One in Five: Disparities in Crime and Policing”

As noted in this post last month, The Sentencing Project has announced that it is "producing a series of four reports examining both the narrowing and persistence of racial injustice in the criminal legal system, as well as highlighting promising reforms." Today, The Sentencing Project released this latest report in this series, the second I believe, titled “One in Five: Disparities in Crime and Policing.” Here is part of the report's executive summary:

As noted in the first installment of this One in Five series, scholars have declared a “generational shift” in the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for Black men, from a staggering one in three for those born in 1981 to a still troubling one in five for Black men born in 2001....

This report interrogates the large footprint of policing — particularly of Black Americans— as, in part, a failed response to racial disparities in serious crimes. The wide net that police cast across people of color is at odds with advancing safety because excessive police contact often fails to intercept serious criminal activity and diminishes the perceived legitimacy of law enforcement.  Excessive policing also distracts policymakers from making investments to promote community safety without the harms of policing and incarceration. In addition, the large footprint of policing gets in the way of, as the National Academies of Sciences has called for, needed “durable investments in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods that match the persistent and longstanding nature of institutional disinvestment that such neighborhoods have endured over many years.”...

Ending racial inequity in the criminal legal system requires both effectively tackling disparities in serious criminal behavior and eliminating excessive police contact.  The subsequent installments of this One in Five series will examine additional drivers of disparity from within the criminal legal system and highlight promising reforms from dozens of jurisdictions around the country.

Prior recent related post:

November 2, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

"Juvenile Crime and Anticipated Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Ashna Arora just published in the November issue of American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.  Here is its abstract:

Can sanctions deter juvenile crime?  Research indicates that they may not, as offending barely decreases when individuals cross the age of criminal majority and begin to face harsher sanctions.  Several models of criminal behavior predict, however, that these small reactions close to the threshold may mask larger behavioral responses among individuals below the age threshold.  Policy variation between 2007–2015 in the United States is used to show evidence consistent with these predictions — juvenile crime increases when the age of majority is increased.  This increase is driven by younger age groups and is considerably larger than discontinuity estimates at the threshold.

October 31, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

New white-paper on "Advancing the Use of Data in Prosecution: What We Measure Matters"

 Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP) this week released this new white paper focused on data collection by prosecutor offices.  Three FJP contributors to the white paper also authored this new commentary at The Crime Report headlined "Every Prosecutor’s Office Should Be Investing in Data."  The start of the commentary provides context and a preview of the full white paper:

Local prosecutors hold enormous power over the outcomes of criminal cases.  Their decisions -– whether to file a case, what charges to bring, what dispositions to offer, and what sentences to seek -– impact the lives of individuals and their communities every day.

Yet, for decades, little has been known about the inner workings of prosecutor’s offices, as elected prosecutors’ historical resistance to data and transparency has shielded them from accountability both internally and externally. But as more and more communities demand new approaches to prevent crime and promote justice -– and as misinformation about justice reform abounds -– it’s long past time to unlock the black box of prosecution. 

A new generation of prosecutors is helping us do just that by investing resources in cultivating data and releasing it to the public, improving both the effectiveness and equity of their offices and thereby promoting public safety.  Now, more need to follow suit. 

Seeking justice in a criminal case is a complex and difficult job, and that job is often made more difficult by a lack of data available to the elected prosecutors who oversee this work.  Imagine running a prosecutor’s office that processes thousands of cases each year, but you have no system to track how individual prosecutors are handling pretrial release recommendations, where office resources are being focused, how and where cases are languishing in the system, the ultimate disposition recommended and imposed in cases, or the racial disparities that may be perpetuated by your own office.  How would you know whether your staff is adhering to the policies you put in place?  How do you measure your office’s success?

Building a data infrastructure that allows an office to quickly and accurately answer these questions is not an easy undertaking.  But it’s more important than ever that policymakers, advocates, and the public have a common set of facts they can work from and a common understanding of how prosecutors are making these critical decisions.  And that requires improved data capacity in the more than 2,000 prosecutor’s offices nationwide. 

That’s why Fair and Just Prosecution recently released  “Advancing the Use of Data in Prosecution,” a first-of-its-kind report that lifts up the inspiring data work happening in prosecutor’s offices across the country and offers guidance for others seeking to improve their systems. 

October 31, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative highlights ten stats about modern criminal justice system

Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative has produced this new item under the title "Ten statistics about the scale and impact of mass incarceration in the U.S."  The stats listed, along with PPI's signature visuals, actually cover a lot more than incarceration, and here is how the list is set up:

The United States’ reliance on incarceration outpaces most of the globe: every single state incarcerates more people per capita than virtually any independent democracy on Earth.  But the sheer magnitude and impact of a system so large can be hard to fully comprehend.  We looked back over some of the best criminal legal system research and chose these ten statistics as some of the most handy for advocates, policymakers, and journalists working to help the public appreciate just how far-reaching mass incarceration is in this country.

Here are a couple of the items from the list (with links from the original):

October 25, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Death Penalty Information Center has updated its impressive "Death Penalty Census."

Via this notice on the Death Penalty Information Center's website, I have noticed that DPIC "has updated its Death Penalty Census, a database of every death sentence imposed since 1972."  Here is more about this valuable resource:

The database now contains information accurate as of January 1, 2022, inclusive of the 50th year of the modern death penalty. The Census contains information on 9,820 death sentences imposed on 8,842 defendants. It includes the name, race, and gender of each defendant, along with the region, state, county, and year in which the sentence was imposed.

When it was launched in 2022, the Census included available data through January 1, 2021. With the addition of one year of data, it now includes all death sentences imposed through January 1, 2022, as well as the outcome of death sentences and current case statuses as of that date. The update added 21 new death sentences imposed in 2021, three exonerations that took place that year, and numerous updates regarding sentence reversals, deaths on death row, resentences, and other changes to the status of cases.

For anyone interested in data for tracking modern capital punishment, this DPIC Death Penalty Census seems like a gold-standard resource.

October 22, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

"A Comprehensive Analysis of the Effect of Crime-Control Policies on Murder"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Carlisle Moody recently posted on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This study investigates the effects of most of the major firearm and crime control policies on murder.  We use two-way fixed-effects models based on state-level panel data from 1970-2018.  We include a comprehensive list of relevant policy variables to control for their influence in determining the effect of each.  We do a specification search using four commonly used econometric methods to estimate three models of the crime equation.  A Bonferroni correction is used to control for false rejections. A robustness check using new difference-in-differences estimators confirms the results.  We find that, with the possible exception of constitutional carry laws, no firearm policy can be shown to have a significant long-run effect on murder.  However, we find that the traditional policies of prison incarceration and police presence significantly reduce murder in the long run.  We also find that executions have no significant long-run effect on murder.  Finally, there is considerable evidence that three-strikes laws increase murder in the long run.

October 18, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative provide updated data on "incarceration stats by race, ethnicity, and gender" in all states

Prison Policy Initiative has this new briefing by Leah Wang fully titled "Updated data and charts: Incarceration stats by race, ethnicity, and gender for all 50 states and D.C.: New data visualizations and updated tables show the national landscape of persistent racial disparity in state prisons and local jails."  here is how the briefing begins (with links from the original):

The best and latest criminal legal system data are often scattered across different government agencies, in incompatible formats, and difficult to compare.  To make the most useful information more accessible, we make the underlying data for our timely reports and briefings available in our Data Toolbox, and create state-specific graphics on our comprehensive State Profiles pages.  Today, we’ve added a rich new series of resources for our users of our work:

First, we now have downloadable spreadsheet of the most recently available incarceration data for people in state prisons and in local jails, by race and ethnicity and by sex, for all 50 states and D.C.  Unlike other datasets, ours provides apples-to-apples state comparisons in three formats (counts, rates, and percentages): We’ve done the math to standardize incompatible measurements found in the various original data sources.

Second, we’ve updated over 100 of the key graphics on our State Profiles pages showing prison and jail incarceration rates by race and ethnicity, and how the racial composition of each state’s prisons and jails compare to the total state population.

September 27, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

New US Sentencing Commission report covers "Federal Escape Offenses"

The US Sentencing Commission this morning released this new 30+-page report titled simply "Federal Escape Offenses."  This USSC webpage provides a summary and key findings, and here and highlights from the highlights:

This new publication expands upon the Commission’s previous research on federal escape offenses. In this report, the Commission combines data it regularly collects with data from a special coding project to provide a deeper understanding of escape offenses and the individuals who commit those crimes.  The report provides the characteristics of individuals who commit escape offenses, then chronologically examines their criminal histories before the instant offense through their alleged criminal behavior while on escape status. Next it provides information on their subsequent sentencing.  Finally, this report examines their criminal behavior after being released into the community by the recidivism rates of a cohort of individuals released from federal custody in 2010.

  • Escape offenses accounted for less than one percent (0.4%) of all federal offenses between fiscal years 2017 and 2021.

  • Individuals sentenced for escape offenses had extensive and serious criminal histories....

  • Most federal escapes were from non-secure custody. The majority (89.0%) of individuals escaped from a Residential Reentry Center (i.e., a halfway house)....

  • Nearly all (99.2%) individuals sentenced for an escape offense received a sentence of imprisonment. The average term of imprisonment was 12 months.

  • Nearly two-thirds (65.0%) of individuals sentenced for an escape offense were sentenced within the guideline range for their escape crime, compared to 40.2 percent of all other federally sentenced U.S. citizens.

  • The majority (85.7%) of individuals sentenced for an escape offense and released in 2010 were rearrested during an eight-year follow-up period, which was higher than individuals sentenced for any other type of federal offense.  By comparison, one-half (49.2%) of other individuals released in 2010 were rearrested during the same time period.

    • Individuals sentenced for escape offenses were rearrested sooner after release compared to other sentenced individuals. Their median time to rearrest was ten months, compared to 19 months for the remaining 2010 cohort.

September 26, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases FY 2023 third quarter sentencing data (and the stories of crack sentencing continues to evolve)

Earlier this week, the US Sentencing Commission released on its website its latest quarterly data report which is labelled "3rd Quarter Release, Preliminary Fiscal Year 2023 Data Through June 30, 2023."  These new data provide the latest accounting of how federal sentencing is working toward a new normal in the wake of a COVID pandemic and related evolutions in the federal criminal justice system.  For example, as reflected in Figure 2, while the three quarters prior to the pandemic averaged roughly 20,000 federal sentencings per quarter, the three quarters closing out 2020 had only between about 12,000 and 13,000 cases sentenced each quarter.  Calendar year 2021 had a partial rebounding of total cases sentenced, but the "new normal" seems to be between 15,000 and 17,000 total federal cases sentenced each quarter (and Figure 2 shows that a decline in immigration cases accounts for the decrease in overall cases sentenced).

As I have noted before, the other big COVID era trend was a historically large number of below-guideline variances being granted, and this trend has now extended over the last 12 quarters of official USSC data (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  I suspect this trend is mostly a facet of the different caseload and case mixes.  In the most recent quarters, the official data show that only around 42.5% of all federal sentences are imposed "Within Guideline Range."  This number continues the modern reality that, since the pandemic hit, significantly more federal sentences are being imposed outside the guideline range (for a wide array of reasons) than are being imposed inside the calculated range.

As I have also flagged before, for anyone who has long followed federal sentencing data and debates, the USSC's latest data on drug sentencing reflected in Figures 11 and 12 should be especially striking.  These figures show, for the last three quarters, that over 47% of all federal drug sentencings involved methamphetamine, which is more of the drug sentencing caseload than powder and crack cocaine, heroin and fentanyl combined.  Moreover, the average sentence for all those meth cases is well over eight years in prison (and has been rising in recent quarters), whereas the average for all the other drug cases is around six years or lower.  In other words, the federal "war on drugs" these days is much more focused upon, and imposes longer prison sentences upon, the meth defendants than anyone else. 

Especially notable is how few crack cases are being sentenced and how relatively low average crack sentences now are.  Back in FY 2008 (a little before the sentencing reforms of the Fair Sentencing Act), the USSC data showed that over 6000 crack defendants were been federally sentenced that year with an average sentence approaching 10 years in prison.  But now, with only 4.6% of the federal drug sentencing caseload involving crack cases, it seems likely that fewer than 1000 crack defendants will be sentenced in federal court in FY 2023 and in the latest quarter the average crack sentence was well under 5 years.  In other words, the crack caseload has gone down by more than 80% and the average sentence has gone done by more than 50%.  Remarkable.

September 21, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

CCJ publishes big new data resource, "The Footprint," which seeks to track the size of America's criminal justice system

The Council of Criminal Justice (CCJ) today published this notable new data resource titled "The Footprint: Tracking the Size of America's Criminal Justice System."  Here is how the resource introduces the data it covers on its landing page:

The overall size, or “footprint,” of the American criminal justice system remains well above historical levels, but it has shrunk substantially in recent years.  This series of interactive charts summarizes trends in crime, arrests, and correctional control (incarceration and community supervision), comparing current levels with their most recent peaks or valleys.  Time periods vary due to data availability, and where reliable data are available, trends in race and sex are also presented.

COVID-19 resulted in significant changes in crime patterns and the operations of law enforcement agencies, courts, correctional agencies, and paroling authorities.  Because of the unique influence of the pandemic across the system, analyses also examine the early effects of the pandemic on crime, arrests, and correctional control.

The first section provides a high-level overview of crime, arrest, and incarceration trends in recent decades. The following sections take a closer look at trends in each area, broken down by age, crime type, race, and sex.

The data assembled here, which provides historical national data trends based on already reported public data, are great to have in one place. Sentencing fans may be especially interested in the data trends regarding probation, parole, jails, state prisons and federal prisons, but all the data is really fascinating in all sorts of particulars.

September 12, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Notable new resource provides "Data for Defenders"

Though I am institutionally disinclined to praise anything emerging from the school up north, I am still quite pleased to highlight and compliment a new UM resource brought to my attention by Eve Brensike Primus, who is a Prof at the University of Michigan Law School and Director of the Public Defender Training Institute.  Here is the full description from an email I received earlier today:

Data for Defenders is a new database that collects briefs, motions, and transcripts focused on social science research and data helpful to public defenders. It includes information on topics like the science of eyewitness memory; problems with racism and bias in the criminal legal system; and the use of unreliable, seemingly scientific evidence.

The project is sponsored by the University of Michigan’s MDefenders program along with a number of partners — including public defender offices and organizations around the country — to ensure that the database remains relevant and up to date.  In addition to including completed briefs and motions submitted by defenders, defense experts at Michigan Law will regularly draft language for new briefs and motions, incorporating novel social science research to help defenders advocate with and for their indigent clients.

The database is organized in a user-friendly way. For every document in the database, there is a description that will pinpoint exactly which pages have the relevant information. It’s also searchable by a number of different categories — date, jurisdiction, topic, key terms.  And because it has succinct summaries, perusing the database by category can also generate ideas for defenders about different kinds of issues they can raise that they might not have thought of.

Instead of having defenders around the country waste precious time reinventing the wheel, this database will collect and share sample motions and briefs to help public defenders bring data, research, and statistics into the courtroom.  We encourage you to take a look at this new resource, use it when helpful, and contribute materials to it.  And if there are subjects that you’d like to see covered that are not currently included, feel free to send your ideas to mdefendersinfo @

I noticed that two of the documents in the database are on sentencing, and I am sure there are also others that will be of interest to sentencing fans.

September 5, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

New research suggests justice delayed results in justice more severe

This new Scientific American article provides a short account by researchers about thier interesting studies on delayed justice.  The article is fully headlined "Why Delays in Delivering Justice Lead to Harsher Sentencing: People want swift punishment and will even penalize perpetrators for delays outside their control," and here are excerpts:

It occurred to us that people in a position to determine justice — whether they are judges or other evaluators — often expect swift consequences.  When this process is disrupted, we reasoned, they may find it unfair. Did they seek to correct for a process that they believed had unfairly benefited the transgressor? In a series of studies, we discovered that is indeed the case.  Delays in arrests or sentencing increased punishment severity.

We began by accessing more than 150,000 felony sentencing decisions from Cook County, Illinois. Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, is the second-most populous county in the U.S.  The data, which were released to offer more transparency into the prosecution process, provided a detailed view of how delays may influence sentencing. Importantly, some of the crimes occurred back in the 1980s, meaning that justice may have been delayed for years or even decades after the crime was committed.

We uncovered a consistent pattern: the more time that passed before the judgment of a crime, the longer the sentence a transgressor received.  This occurred regardless of whether we computed delays from the time span between the crime and the arrest or sentencing or between the arrest and the sentencing.  We also controlled for the number of charges and the severity of crimes committed, which ruled out alternative explanations.

Still, we wanted to replicate these findings in another context.  Instead of looking at civilian sentencing, we acquired a data set of police misconduct cases from the New York Police Department.  These data included such examples as an officer’s use of excessive force and abuse of authority. As before, our results revealed a consistent effect: the more time that elapsed between the report of misconduct and the closure of a case, the more severe the recommended punishment was.  These results held even after accounting for the number of charges officers faced, the number of officers associated with the accusation and the type of accusation.  Together these two studies showed robust support for the effect of delays on punishment.

But we still wanted to understand why time delays seemed to increase punishment severity. We therefore designed a series of experiments with 6,029 adult participants recruited via online panels.  In these studies, people learned about a hypothetical crime, such as shoplifting, and then decided how many months they would sentence the transgressor to prison for.... Once again, we found that participants punished the transgressor significantly more severely in the long-time-delay condition....

Our studies reveal an interesting and important pattern.  We should not assume that the passage of time has healing properties.  In fact, it can potentially exacerbate punishment.  Moreover in cases where the time delay is not the fault of the transgressor — as with the backlog of court cases during the COVID pandemic — people need to recognize that time delays may lead to biased sentencing.  That’s something that should concern all of us.

The full research from the authors of this piece was published earlier this month in the journal Psychological Science under the title "Time and Punishment: Time Delays Exacerbate the Severity of Third-Party Punishment."  Here is its abstract:

Punishments are not always administered immediately after a crime is committed.  Although scholars and researchers claim that third parties should normatively enact punishments proportionate to a given crime, we contend that third parties punish transgressors more severely when there is a time delay between a transgressor’s crime and when they face punishment for it.  We theorize that this occurs because of a perception of unfairness, whereby third parties view the process that led to time delays as unfair.  We tested our theory across eight studies, including two archival data sets of 160,772 punishment decisions and six experiments (five preregistered) across 6,029 adult participants.  Our results suggest that as time delays lengthen, third parties punish transgressors more severely because of increased perceived unfairness.  Importantly, perceived unfairness explained this relationship beyond other alternative mechanisms. We explore potential boundary conditions for this relationship and discuss the implications of our findings.

August 29, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Recapping some recent notable reports on prison realities and more from the Prison Policy Initiative

I recently received a helpful review of just some of the remarkable materials and data assembled by the Prison Policy Initiative on an array of prison- and punishment-related topics.  I am pretty sure I have blogged about some or even most of these reports, but I thought it still helpful to reprint here links to the reports and the brief summaries sent my way:

August 21, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

CCJ releases encouraging new short report on "First Step Act: An Early Analysis of Recidivism"

This morning I received an email from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) linking me to this notable new report authored by Avinash Bhati and titled ""First Step Act: An Early Analysis of Recidivism."   This CCJ press release about the short report provides this effective review of its highlights:

Previous comparisons between FSA releases and the overall federal prison population have not accounted for differences in the groups, including levels of risk of reoffending, tracking periods, and other characteristics. The CCJ analysis estimates recidivism rates among individuals released from the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prior to the FSA who had similar risk profiles and were tracked for similar periods of time (“similarly situated”) as those released under the FSA.

According to data published by the U.S. Department of Justice, 29,946 people were released from BOP facilities under the FSA from 2020 to 2022.  The Council’s analysis of this data finds that, when compared to similarly situated individuals released from the BOP prior to the Act’s implementation, individuals released under the FSA have:

  • An estimated 37% lower recidivism rate. According to BOP data, the recidivism rate for FSA releases is 12.4%, compared to an estimated recidivism rate of 19.8% for similarly situated pre-FSA releases.
  • An estimated 3,125 fewer arrests incurred. With a recidivism rate of 12.4%, the people released under the FSA over three years could have accounted for between 3,712 and 4,330 arrests. With an estimated recidivism of 19.8%, an equal number of similarly situated pre-FSA releases could have accounted for between 5,918 and 7,455 arrests over the same three-year period.

August 21, 2023 in Data on sentencing, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (23)

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases more "Quick Facts" data on economic offenses

This week, the US Sentencing Commission has released another set of its "Quick Facts" publications.  Long-time readers have long heard me praise the USSC for producing these convenient and informative short data documents, which are designed to "give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format."  Here are the latest postings by the USSC on this  "Quick Facts" page:

August 9, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Reviewing latest data on Jan 6 riot prosecutions and sentencings

This Fox News piece, headlined "More than 1K people charged over Jan 6 riot, 366 received prison time: DOJ," summarizes some of the latest data from the US Justice Department about its prosecutions of persons involved in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.  Here are details:

The Justice Department has charged more than 1,100 people in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, and about a third of that number were sentenced to prison time, the Biden administration announced over the weekend. The DOJ released its latest statistics about Jan. 6 on Sunday, exactly 31 months after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest former President Trump’s election loss.

Of all the charges listed, the majority of defendants – 967 – were accused of trespassing on restricted federal grounds. Just over 100 of the people in that group face additional charges for illegally entering federal grounds with a weapon.

The DOJ said 372 people were charged with "assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees." Roughly a third of those were accused of using a deadly weapon against an officer or "causing serious bodily injury" to an officer. It said about 64 people have been charged with destruction of government property, and 51 were charged with theft of government property.

The DOJ said 632 people have pleaded guilty to various charges – mostly misdemeanors, although 198 have pleaded guilty to felonies. The department said 597 people have received sentences for their activities on Jan. 6, and 366 of those were sentenced to incarceration....

"Under the continued leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack continues to move forward at an unprecedented speed and scale. The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on January 6, 2021, has not, and will not, wane," the department said.

August 8, 2023 in Celebrity sentencings, Data on sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Florida complete its fifth execution of 2023, more than its total in prior five years

As reported in this AP piece, a "Florida man who recently dropped all legal appeals was executed Thursday for the 1988 murder of a woman who was sexually assaulted, killed with a hammer and then set on fire in her own bed." Here is more:

James Phillip Barnes, 61, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. following a lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.... The 61-year-old inmate was sentenced to death for the murder of nurse Patricia “Patsy” Miller. It was the fifth execution in Florida this year....

Barnes was serving a life sentence for the 1997 strangulation of his wife, 44-year-old Linda Barnes, when he wrote letters in 2005 to a state prosecutor claiming responsibility for killing Miller years earlier at her condominium in Melbourne on Florida’s east coast.

Barnes represented himself in court hearings where he offered no defense, pleaded guilty to killing Miller and did not attempt to seek a life sentence rather than the death penalty. Miller, who was 41 when Barnes killed her on April 20, 1988, had some previous unspecified negative interactions with him, according to a jailhouse interview he gave German film director Werner Herzog. “There were several events that happened (with Miller). I felt terribly humiliated, that’s all I can say,” Barnes said in the interview....

Barnes killed his wife in 1997 after she discovered that he was dealing drugs. Her body was found stuffed in a closet after she was strangled, court records show. Barnes has claimed to have killed at least two other people but has never been charged in those cases....

Though unusual, condemned inmates sometimes don’t pursue every legal avenue to avoid execution. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that about 150 such inmates have been put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the death penalty as constitutional in 1976.

According to this DPIC page, Florida had no executions between 2020 and 2022, and only two each year in the prior two years.  The single-year record for executions in the Sunshine state is eight, though it seems no more executions are as of now yet scheduled in the state.  There are more than 300 people on the state's death row, though I am un sure how many have exhausted their appeals.

August 3, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, July 31, 2023

"Conviction, Incarceration, and Recidivism: Understanding the Revolving Door"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper that looks to provide a notable (and lengthy) empirical account of contributions to recidivism.  The piece was recently posted to SSRN and is authored by John Eric Humphries, Aurelie Ouss, Kamelia Stavreva, Megan T. Stevenson and Winnie van Dijk.  Here is its abstract:

We study the effects of conviction and incarceration on recidivism using quasi-random judge assignment.  We extend the typical binary-treatment framework to a setting with multiple treatments, and outline a set of assumptions under which standard 2SLS regressions recover causal and margin-specific treatment effects.  Under these assumptions, 2SLS regressions applied to data on felony cases in Virginia imply that conviction leads to a large and long-lasting increase in recidivism relative to dismissal, consistent with a criminogenic effect of a criminal record.  In contrast, incarceration reduces recidivism, but only in the short run.  The assumptions we outline could be considered restrictive in the random judge framework, ruling out some reasonable models of judge decision-making.  Indeed, a key assumption is empirically rejected in our data.  Nevertheless, after deriving an expression for the resulting asymptotic bias, we argue that the failure of this assumption is unlikely to overturn our qualitative conclusions.  Finally, we propose and implement alternative identification strategies.  Consistent with our characterization of the bias, these analyses yield estimates qualitatively similar to those based on the 2SLS estimates. Taken together, our results suggest that conviction is an important and potentially overlooked driver of recidivism, while incarceration mainly has shorter-term incapacitation effects.

July 31, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (21)

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A sign of the capital times?: Buckeye State marks five years without any executions

This local article, headlined "Ohio’s death penalty: Today marks five years since last inmate executed," notes a notable temporal landmark is Ohio's fascinating history with capital punishment.  Here are the details:

Inmate Robert Van Hook was executed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on July 18, 2018.  An inmate has not been put to death in Ohio since.

Robin Maher, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said the trend will likely continue.  “Ohio was once a pretty prolific executioner, so this is a real change,” she said....

Van Hook’s execution took place more than 30 years after he stabbed a man to death in Cincinnati after meeting him at a bar.  The 58-year-old had no remaining appeals, and Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected his request for clemency without comment.  At the time of the killing, Van Hook was suffering from long-term effects of untreated mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and was depressed that his life seemed to be falling apart, his attorneys argued.

Between 1976 and 2018, what Maher refers to as the “modern era of the death penalty,” 56 inmates were executed in Ohio.  Currently, 123 inmates sit on Ohio’s death row, making it the sixth largest in the country, according to the Death Penalty Information Center....

Ohio joins the ranks of the majority of states who have either abolished the death penalty or have the option but have not used it in five years, or in most cases, even longer. Arkansas also has not used the death penalty in five years. Nebraska will join the list in August....

In Ohio, there are a number of reasons for the decline in executions, including access to the drugs used. “Ohio has been informed by drug companies that if their products are used in executions in Ohio, those same products will be withheld from all state agencies, including state-run hospitals and medical facilities,” according to a statement from the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. This effectively eliminates those companies as sources for the prison system to obtain drugs listed in the execution protocol.

As some readers may know, there has been robust litigation over execution protocols in the Buckeye State, and some extraordinary work by defense attorneys in this litigation seemed to have contributed to some Ohio leaders being content with a de facto moratorium on executions.  Because Governor Mike DeWine (and perhaps other state leaders) seem generally disinclined to try to get the state's machinery of death back in action, I would predict that the state is unlikely to have an execution before 2027.  But the death penalty has always been unpredictable in the state, and so I am disinclined to make any firm assertions about what the capital future holds.

July 18, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission releases more "Quick Facts" data on wide range of topics

I have been noticing in recent weeks that the US Sentencing Commission has been releasing a lot more new short data reports in the form of its "Quick Facts" publications. (Long-time readers have long heard me praise the USSC for producing these convenient and informative short data documents, which are designed to "give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format").  Here is just a sampling of recent postings by the USSC on this  "Quick Facts" page:

There are so many notable and interesting little data items in these little documents, and I welcome folks highlighting any interesting data points in the comments.  I am eager to flag the continued drop in federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking, as the FY 2022 shows only 806 persons being federal sentenced for this offense.  (I co-authored an article a few years ago looking at federal marijuana data, titled "How State Reforms Have Mellowed Federal Enforcement of Marijuana Prohibition," which noted that a decade ago nearly 7000 persons were being federal sentenced for marijuana trafficking.) 

July 18, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 03, 2023

Half way through 2023, is US on pace for the most executions in nearly a decade?

As we turn past the half-way point in the year, I thought it interesting to note that the first half of 2023 had a total of 13 executions and that at least ten more "serious" execution dates have already been set for the the second half of 2023 (according to this accounting from the Death Penalty Information Center).  A quick glance at this DPIC fact sheet shows that we have already had more executions in 2023 than took place in all of 2021.  And, if just a few more 2023 execution dates get set and most get carried out, this year could end up with more total executions in the United States than any year since 2015 (when there were 28) or even 2014 (when there were 35).

Of course, these yearly execution totals are a far cry from what the US experienced around the turn of the millennium: during the second term of Bill Clinton and the first term of George W. Bush (from 1997 through 2004), the US averaged over 73 executions per year (with a peak of 98 executions in 1999).  Stated a bit differently, while 2023 seems to be putting the US back on a pace for around two executions per month on average, not long ago this country was averaging over six executions per month.

These numbers strike me as especially interesting as another notable US Supreme Court Term comes to an end without much SCOTUS engagement with capital punishment jurisprudence.  The US Supreme Court's evolving doctrines and scrutiny of capital convictions and sentences over the last half-century have profoundly impacted the size and nature of death rows and whose death sentences get carried out.  I suspect the current group of Justices will not be inclined to get in the way if more states start showing even more interest in completing even more executions.  But I also sense other legal actors (eg, state courts and prosecutors) and various political and practical realities may still keep the US execution rate well below past recent peaks for the foreseeable future. 

July 3, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Notable RAND review of data and research on "justice-involved veterans"

I just saw this intriguing new publication from the RAND Corporation titled "Identifying Promising Prevention Strategies and Interventions to Support Justice-Involved Veterans."  I recommend the full piece, and here some excerpts:

The research on veterans who have come into contact with the criminal justice system — whom we refer to as justice-involved veterans — is extremely limited. Over the past decade, there have been very few rigorous studies with large sample sizes. It has been historically difficult to secure funding for research on the needs of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated populations (Boch et al., 2023).  However, there has been renewed interest at the national level in how military service and military-to-civilian transitions affect the risk of justice system involvement, as well as the specific needs of formerly incarcerated veterans as they reenter their communities.  In 2022, the Council on Criminal Justice launched the nonpartisan Veterans Justice Commission, chaired by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to explore these questions and issue evidence-based recommendations for policy change...

Not all justice-involved veterans are incarcerated in jails and prisons.  There are no reliable statistics on the total number of justice-involved veterans (Council on Criminal Justice, 2022).  Across the population of justice-involved veterans, we have the clearest picture of the differences between incarcerated veterans and their nonveteran counterparts, in part because the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts periodic surveys and publishes reports specific to incarcerated veterans.  These survey data are among the best sources of information about justice-involved veterans.  The bureau's most recent survey, conducted in 2016, showed that 98 percent of veterans in state and federal prisons were men and that they were older and more likely to be White and serving longer sentences than incarcerated nonveterans (Maruschak and Bronson, 2021)....

Although questions remain about veterans' pathways to criminal justice involvement, the public is generally supportive of rehabilitative approaches for these individuals (Atkin-Plunk and Sloas, 2019). A National Institute of Corrections report referenced the frequent refrain that offering alternatives to incarceration for veterans was the "right thing to do" (Edelman, Berger, and Crawford, 2016); the country has an obligation to address the enduring effects of military service, and this sense of responsibility has led to innovative interventions....

Perhaps the most well-researched intervention for justice-involved veterans is the veteran treatment court (VTC) model. VTCs follow a similar model to other problem-solving courts, such as drug courts and mental health courts, where the emphasis is on providing treatment to justice-involved individuals with substance use or mental health needs rather than incarcerating them....

The number of VTCs has expanded significantly since the first court was founded in 2008, and recent estimates suggest that there are more than 620 operating across the country (VA, 2022a).  However, there is substantial variability in policies and practices across VTCs (Baldwin, 2015; Henderson and Stewart, 2016; Douds et al., 2017; McCall, Tsai, and Gordon, 2018), making it difficult to know what models are most effective.  Some studies have yielded promising findings (Hartley and Baldwin, 2019), but most have been limited by their small scale, focus on a single court, and lack of a comparison group (e.g., Derrick et al., 2018; Shannon et al., 2017).  Estimates of recidivism rates following VTC participation range widely, from 2.5 percent to 56 percent (McCall, Tsai, and Gordon, 2018).  And beyond recidivism, there is also a need for research on ongoing treatment engagement and clinical outcomes associated with court participation.

June 15, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Highlighting data on how very few federal defendants go to trial (and even fewer who get acquitted)

The federal indictment of former Prez Trump seems sure to bring every more attention to the dynamics, and perhaps the day-to-day realities, of the federal criminal justice system.  To that end, John Gramlich of the Pew Research Center has this notable new item headlined "Fewer than 1% of defendants in federal criminal cases were acquitted in 2022."  I recommend the full (short) piece, and here are excerpts:

Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty this week to federal criminal charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents after his departure from the White House in 2021.  The unprecedented charges against Trump and his subsequent plea raise the question: How common is it for defendants in federal criminal cases to plead not guilty, go to trial and ultimately be acquitted?

In fiscal year 2022, only 290 of 71,954 defendants in federal criminal cases – about 0.4% – went to trial and were acquitted, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest available statistics from the federal judiciary. Another 1,379 went to trial and were found guilty (1.9%).

The overwhelming majority of defendants in federal criminal cases that year did not go to trial at all.  About nine-in-ten (89.5%) pleaded guilty, while another 8.2% had their case dismissed at some point in the judicial process, according to the data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts....

Trump’s case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, where acquittal rates look similar to the national average.  In fiscal 2022, only 12 of 1,944 total defendants in the Southern District of Florida – about 0.6% – were acquitted at trial. As was the case nationally, the vast majority of defendants in Florida’s Southern District (86.2%) pleaded guilty that year, while 10.7% had their cases dismissed.

It’s not clear from the federal judiciary’s statistics how many other defendants nationally or in the Southern District of Florida faced the same or similar charges that Trump is facing or how those cases ended.

Broadly speaking, however, the charges against Trump are rare. In fiscal 2022, more than eight-in-ten federal criminal defendants in the United States faced charges related to one of four other broad categories of crime: drug offenses (31%), immigration offenses (25%), firearms and explosives offenses (16%) or property offenses (11%).  In Florida’s Southern District, too, more than eight-in-ten defendants faced charges related to these four categories.

June 14, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, June 11, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases FY 2023 second quarter sentencing data

Last week, the US Sentencing Commission released on its website this latest quarterly data report setting forth the "2nd Quarter Release, Preliminary Fiscal Year 2023 Data Through March 31, 2023."  These new data suggest that persisting impacts of COVID era developments are still echoing through federal sentencing caseloads.  For example, as reflected in Figure 2 of this data report, while the year prior to the pandemic averaged roughly 20,000 federal sentencings per quarter, the "new normal" now seems to be 16,000 total federal cases sentenced each quarter (with a decline in immigration cases primarily accounting for the decrease in overall cases sentenced).

As I have noted before, the other big COVID era trend was a historically large percentage of below-guideline variances being granted, and this trend has now extended over the last 11 quarters of official USSC data (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  I suspect this trend is just another facet of the different caseload and case mix.  Over the last two quarters, the official data show that only 42.7% of all federal sentences are being imposed "Within Guideline Range."  This number is not historically low, but it continues the modern statistical reality that considerably more federal sentences are imposed outside the guideline range (for a wide array of reasons) than are imposed inside the range.

Among other interesting data and stories within the data, I continue to be struck by the data on drug sentencing reflected in Figures 11 and 12.  These figures show, for the latest two quarters, that nearly 47% of all federal drug sentencings involved methamphetamine and that the fentanyl caseload has recently grown considerably.  (In FY 21, less than 10% of the drug sentencing caseload involved fentanyl; for the first half of FY 23, the fentanyl caseload is over 16%.) Still, the average sentence for all the meth cases is over eight years in prison, whereas the average for all the other drugs is under six years.  As I have put it before, the federal "war on drugs" these days is much more focused upon, and imposes longer prison sentencing upon, meth defendants than anyone else. 

June 11, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

New Sentencing Project report reviews "Adults 25 and Younger Sentenced to Life without Parole"

The Sentencing Project today released this new report on certain LWOP sentencing patterns titled "“Left to Die in Prison: Emerging Adults 25 and Younger Sentenced to Life without Parole.” Here are excerpts from the report's "Executive Summary" (with endnotes removed):

Beginning at age 18, U.S. laws typically require persons charged with a crime to have their case heard in criminal rather than juvenile court, where penalties are more severe.  The justification for this is that people are essentially adults by age 18, yet this conceptualization of adulthood is flawed.  The identification of full criminal accountability at age 18 ignores the important, distinct phase of human development referred to as emerging adulthood, also known as late adolescence or young adulthood.  Compelling evidence shows that most adolescents are not fully matured into adulthood until their mid-twenties.

The legal demarcation of 18 as adulthood rests on outdated notions of adolescence.  Based on the best scientific understanding of human development, ages 18 to 25 mark a unique stage of life between childhood and adulthood which is recognized within the fields of neuroscience, sociology, and psychology.  Thus, there is growing support for providing incarcerated people who were young at the time of their offense a second look at their original sentence to account for their diminished capacity.  A 2022 study found similar levels of public support for providing a second look at prison sentences for crimes committed under age 18 as for those committed under age 25.... 

Two in five people — 11,600 individuals — sentenced to LWOP between 1995 and 2017 were under 26 at the time of their sentence.  In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and California, nearly half of those sentenced to LWOP were younger than 26.  Nationally, the peak age at conviction was age 23, which is well within the period between youth and adulthood.

Moreover, two thirds (66%) of people under 26 years old sentenced to LWOP are Black compared with 51% of persons sentenced to LWOP beyond this age. As we show in this report, our analysis finds that being Black and young has produced a substantially larger share of LWOP sentences than being Black alone. This fact reinforces the growing understanding that extreme sentences disproportionately impact Black Americans.

The report’s findings support a recent sentencing trend recognizing emerging adulthood as a developmental stage; more than a dozen states have introduced or passed legislative reforms or adopted jurisprudential restrictions in recent years to protect emerging adults from extreme punishment.  These reforms utilize the latest scientific understanding of adolescence and young adulthood to recognize emerging adulthood as a necessary consideration in assigning culpability. 

In light of strong evidence showing the unique attributes of emerging adulthood, sentences that allow no review once adolescent development is concluded are especially egregious.

June 7, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, June 02, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases a few updated "Quick Facts" and latest "compassionate release" data

The US Sentencing Commission has recently released some new sentencing data reports.  Long-time readers have long heard me praise the USSC for producing insightful little data documents in the form of its "Quick Facts" publications (which are designed to "give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format").  The USSC recent posted these four new entries:

There are so many notable and interesting little data items in these little documents, and I hope to find time to mine a few data notes in the days ahead.  In addition, the USSC's website promises "more updated Quick Facts coming soon."

In addition, the USSC also recently published this updated "Compassionate Release Data Report." This report, which has information covering from October 2019 through March 2023, includes new data on sentence reduction motions under section 3582(c)(1)(A) filed with the courts and decided during the first two quarters of fiscal year 2023. Not surprisingly, this data report shows continued month-over-month declines in the number of sentence reduction motions filed and granted since the heights of the COVID pandemic. And yet, the USSC data show that there are still more of these motions being filed and being granted in recent times than was being granted before the pandemic.

June 2, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 01, 2023

"Fighting Crime Requires More Police and Less Prosecution"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Bloomberg opinion piece by Justin Fox than is built around an interview with Jennifer Doleac (WaPo reprint here).  Here is the set up to the Q&A in the article:

The nationwide jump in shootings and homicides early in the pandemic and the rise in other crimes that followed in some places have made crime a hot topic again in the US.  It has been a prominent one for academic research for a while, with economists in particular flocking to the field as a testing ground for research strategies that aim to sift causes from data. To get a sense of how recent findings fit with the national discussion on crime, I talked to Jennifer Doleac, an economist at Texas A&M University who not only studies crime but hosts a podcast on new research, Probable Causation, and has organized the Criminal Justice Expert Panel, which sums up expert opinion on crime questions.  This summer, Doleac, who has also written a few columns for Bloomberg Opinion, will become executive vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, a leading funder of crime research.  Following is a much-abridged transcript of our conversation and a list of research papers referred to in it.

I highly recommend the full piece, but here are snippets of likely interest to sentencing fans:

JD: [Research shows] first-time offenders are sort of at a fork in the road.  We can either hope it’s enough of a wake-up call that they’ve been arrested and had to come into court, and they’ll change course on their own, or we can pull them into the system.  I’ve become a big proponent of erring toward leniency in those sorts of situations.

There’s been other work to suggest similar things with nonviolent felony defendants. There’s a whole bunch of work on pretrial detention and the fact that locking people up pretrial has a really detrimental, causal effect on their future trajectories.  They’re more likely to plead guilty in that initial case but also more likely to re-offend in the future....

The main thing I try to point out to policymakers is we don’t have to fully understand why we are here to come up with ideas of what to do about it.  We can have ideas about what to do about violent crime that don’t require us solving this problem that we might never solve.

JF:  What are some top candidates?

JD: Putting more police on the streets reduces homicide, reduces violent crime.  There’s plenty of research on that. There are also plenty of discussions now about the potential social costs of over-policing, so it’s reasonable to have conversations about whether that is the route you want to go.  Also, it’s really hard to recruit police right now.

We know that increasing the probability of getting caught for crimes has a big deterrent effect in a way that potentially locking people up for 20 years on the back end does not.  No one is looking that far ahead.  Putting cameras everywhere, adding more people to DNA databases will increase the probability that you get caught if you offend.  We have lots of good evidence that would deter crime....

Leniency toward first-time offenders in the long run is probably a good investment.  Another thing is increasing access to mental health care.  There’s this amazing paper using data from South Carolina showing that when we kick kids off Medicaid at age 19, when it becomes much harder to stay on Medicaid, you just see all the kids get kicked off and then in the other graph you see everyone immediately locked up.  It’s these kids who were using Medicaid to get mental health treatment, they’re the ones that are now at very high risk of being locked up.

June 1, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

"Debt Sentence: How Fines and Fees Hurt Working Families"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the the Wilson Center for Science and Justice and the Fines and Fees Justice Center. Here is the report's executive summary:

Food, healthcare, and shelter are essential for basic survival.  Beyond mere survival, we all have other fundamental needs, such as employment, access to transportation, or education.  No one would choose to forgo any of these necessities, unless there was a greater danger threatening their well-being.  For millions of families across the United States, court fines and fees threaten these basic building blocks of survival and stability.

Across the United States, courts impose fines as a punishment for minor traffic infractions, municipal code violations, misdemeanors, and felonies.  State and local governments then tax people with fees, surcharges, and other costs used to fund the justice system and other government services.  The entire fee system is designed for one purpose: raising revenue for governments.

We know the impact of court fines and fees is not just limited to those families living in or close to poverty; it is felt by working families across economic, racial, and political demographic groups. Court-related debt can often be in the hundreds — if not thousands or even tens of thousands — of dollars, which makes paying it off a struggle for many.  The Federal Reserve Board found that nearly one in four adults in the United States were just one unexpected $400 bill away from severe financial hardship (U.S. Fed. Reserve, 2022).  A report by the lending industry also found that in 2022 “[t]he share of those earning less than $50,000 who live paycheck to paycheck rose to 82%” ( & Lending Club, 2022).

Despite the breadth of data showing how much U.S. families are struggling financially, there has been a lack of consistent and reliable data on the impact of monetary sanctions on those same families.  This study is the first to present a comprehensive, national overview of how court-imposed fines and fees are affecting people across the country.  Using data from a nationally representative survey, we examine the impacts of court-imposed debt on peoples’ daily lives.

Our findings reveal a disturbing trend unfolding among working families impacted by fines and fees: money needed for necessities like food, housing, and healthcare is often being redirected to pay off court debt.  Advocates for fines and fees reform have collected thousands of stories of families sacrificing basic necessities for fear of being jailed and arrested on account of outstanding court debt.  But for the first time, with this survey, we have national data documenting the extent to which fines and fees are destabilizing families and jeopardizing their ability to access the building blocks that support survival, stability, and a chance at success.

May 30, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Notable sentencing research in recent special issue of "Law and Human Behavior"

I just tripped across the February 2023 issue of the journal "Law and Human Behavior," which is labeled as "Special Issue: Racial Justice in the Criminal Justice and Legal Systems."  This issue has lots of notable research, and sentencing fans might be especially interested in these pieces:

"The trial tax and the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender, and age in criminal court sentencing" by Peter S. Lehmann

"The eye of the beholder: Increased likelihood of prison sentences for people perceived to have Hispanic ethnicity" by Erik Girvan and Heather Marek

"Does 'Jamal' Receive a Harsher Sentence Than 'James'? First-Name Bias in the Criminal Sentencing of Black Men" by Dushiyanthini (Toni) Kenthirarajah, Nicholas P. Camp, Gregory M. Walton, Aaron C. Kay and Geoffrey L. Cohen

May 17, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative details "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state"

Prison Policy Initiative has produced this intricate new report detailing how many folks are under correctional control in every state and throughout the entire US.  The report is titled "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state," and here is how it gets started:

The U.S. has a staggering 1.9 million people behind bars, but even this number doesn’t capture the true reach of the criminal legal system.  It’s more accurate to look at the 5.5 million people under all of the nation’s mass punishment systems, which include not only incarceration but also probation and parole.

Altogether, an estimated 3.7 million adults are under community supervision (sometimes called community corrections) — nearly twice the number of people who are incarcerated in jails and prisons combined.  The vast majority of people under supervision are on probation (2.9 million people), and over 800,000 people are on parole.  Yet despite the massive number of people under supervision, parole and probation do not receive nearly as much attention as incarceration.  Policymakers and the public must understand how deeply linked these systems are to mass incarceration to ensure that these “alternatives” to incarceration aren’t simply expanding it.

We’ve designed this report specifically to allow state policymakers and residents to assess the scale and scope of their entire correctional systems.  Our findings raise the question of whether community supervision systems are working as intended or whether they simply funnel people into prisons and jails — or are even replicating prison conditions in the community.  The report encourages policymakers and advocates to consider how many people under correctional control don’t need to be locked up or monitored at all, and whether high-need individuals are receiving necessary services or only sanctions.

In this update to our 2018 report, we compile data for all 50 states and D.C. on federal and state prisons, local jails, jails in Indian Country, probation, and parole.  We also include data on punishment systems that are adjacent to the criminal legal system: youth confinement and involuntary commitment.  Because these systems often mirror and even work in tandem with the criminal legal system, we include them in this broader view of mass punishment. We make the data accessible in one nationwide chart, 100+ state-specific pie charts and a data appendix, and discuss how the scale and harms of these systems can be minimized.

May 10, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (18)