Wednesday, November 09, 2022

New DPIC analysis finds "murder rates during the pandemic were highest in states with the death penalty"

2020-Pandemic-Murder-RatesThe Death Penalty Information Center has posted this notable new review of murder data under the heading "DPIC Analysis: Pandemic Murder Rates Highest in Death Penalty States." I recoemmend the full posting, and here are excerpts (with links and the chart from the original, footnotes removed):

A DPIC analysis of 2020 U.S. homicide data has found that murder rates during the pandemic were highest in states with the death penalty and lowest in long-time abolitionist states.

DPIC reviewed the 2020 murder data compiled by the center-left think tank The Third Way for its March 2022 report, The Red State Murder Problem.  Then, taking the analysis out of the realm of politics and into the context of public policy, DPIC compared the data to states’ death-penalty status and historic usage of the death penalty.  That analysis found that pandemic murder rates generally correlated not just with the presence or absence of the death penalty in a state but with the states’ general level of death-penalty usage.

The data show that nine of the ten states with the highest pandemic murder rates — ranging from 9.9 to 20.5 murders per 10,000 residents — are death penalty states. On the other hand, eight of the eleven states with the lowest pandemic murder rates — ranging from 0.88 to 3.49 murders per 10,000 residents — had abolished the death penalty. DPIC found that the three death penalty states with the lowest pandemic murder rates — all 2.89 murders per 10,000 residents — have not carried out an execution in more than a decade, and one had a gubernatorial moratorium on executions.

Murder rates in the mostly high death-penalty usage, high pandemic-murder-rate states ranged from roughly triple to 23 times higher than in the mostly no death penalty, low pandemic-murder-rate states.

More than half of all death penalty states (14 of 27) had murder pandemic murder rates of at least 7.00 per 100,000 residents, and 30 percent (8 states) had pandemic murder rates of 10.29 per 100,000 residents or higher. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of the states that had abolished the death penalty (15 of 23) had pandemic murder rates of 5.14 or less per 100,000 residents, more than a third (8 states) had pandemic murder rates below 3.5 murders per 100,000 residents....

DPIC’s review of The Third Way pandemic murder data found that 15 of the 20 states with the highest pandemic murder rates are death penalty states, of which 12 have carried out 20 or more executions each in the past half century. Collectively, these 12 states have accounted for more than three quarters of all executions in the U.S. since the 1970s.

At the other end of the spectrum, none of the 23 states with the lowest pandemic murder rates are historically heavy users of capital punishment. Fifteen had abolished the death penalty, including nine who had not had the death penalty at any time during the 21st century.  The eight death penalty states with the lowest pandemic murder rates include two with moratoria on executions, six who have executed five or fewer people in the past half century, one that has carried out seven executions, and six who have not executed anyone in more than a decade.

Twenty U.S. states have carried out ten or more executions in the past half-century.  All of them, including three who have since abolished the death penalty, are among the 28 states with the highest pandemic murder rates.

November 9, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, November 07, 2022

Are there going to be five executions in four US states over the next ten days?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by my quick look this morning at the "Upcoming Executions" page over at the Death Penalty Information Center.   That page shows that Texas has two executions scheduled, and Alabama, Arizona and Oklahoma each have one execution scheduled, between November 9 and November 17.  If all five of these executions go forward, it will be the most executions completed in the US within such a short period of time in a decade.  (In 2012, between November 6 and 15, Texas completed three executions and Ohio and Oklahoma also completed one execution.)

So many executions in a short period would be a pretty dramatic break from recent norms throughout the US.  Since roughly the start of the pandemic, the US has averaged only about one execution per month as various states have continued to have various difficulties with converting death sentences into completed executions.  Even before COVID hit, the US averaged only about two executions per month when President Trump was in office and less than four executions per month during President Obama's years in the oval office. (About seven executions per month was the national average during President Clinton's second term, and around five per month was the national norm for most of President Bush's two terms).

With all the recent political discussions about crime and crime policy, I have been a bit surprised that we have not seen a significant uptick in chatter about capital punishment polcies and practices this election season.  But it does seem we may be on the verge of an uptick in the number of executions this November.

UPDATE:  I just saw this notable new Salon commentary by Austin Sarat headlined "Crime is a hot issue, but even Republicans don't talk about the death penalty: That's good news."  I recommend the full extended piece, and here are a few excerpts:

In the past, politicians at every level responded to public concerns about crime with law-and-order campaigns in which promises to bring back or enforce the death penalty featured prominently....

Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, death-penalty ballot measures have been used as tools of partisan and political advantage, largely to increase turnout among a targeted portion of the electorate in order to benefit "law and order" candidates.

But not this year.

Only in Alabama will voters be asked to decide on a death-penalty ballot measure. It would "require the governor to provide notice to the attorney general and make reasonable efforts to notify a designated family member of a victim before granting a commutation (a reduced sentence such as life imprisonment) or reprieve (temporary stay of execution) of a death sentence." ...

But in campaigns up and down the ballot, even as conservative candidates have accused their opponents of being soft on crime and promised robust anti-crime measures, Republican gubernatorial candidates in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Oklahoma have said little or nothing about the death penalty....

Whatever the verdict delivered by voters this week may be, the relative invisibility of the death penalty in this year's political campaigns is a clear sign of the progress abolitionists have made in changing the national temperature on that issue.

November 7, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

US Sentencing Commission produces "additional analyses" of those receiving federal marijuana possession pardons

In an update to this post last week, I noted that the US Sentencing Commission had produced this three-page analysis of "data relating to offenders sentenced between fiscal year 1992 and fiscal year 2021 convicted of at least one count of simple possession involving marijuana."  That analysis explained where "senior administration officials" were getting the talking point that around 6500 people were going to benefit from President Joe Biden's decision to grant a blanket pardon to "all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act"  That USSC accounting also led me to wonder if we might ever get "race and gender and age and criminal history information" regarding this now-pardoned population.

Excitingly, late yesterday the US Sentencing Commission issued this news advisory announcing that it had completed "additional analyses" of the pardoned population "providing additional information on demographics and geographic distribution."  The additional USSC analyses include race and gender data (but no age and criminal history data), and the biggest story in the new analyses seems to be that the pardoned population is comprised of more Whites (41.3%) and Hispanics (31.8%) than Blacks (23.6%).  This reality may be a bit surprising given that the ACLU has repeatedly documented that states have in recent decades arrested Blacks at nearly four times the rate as whites (see here and here).  But since most federal marijuana possession offenses are concentrated near the border or on federal property (like military bases and national parks), this racial distribution perhaps should not be all that surprising.

Prior related posts:

October 13, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Data on sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Notable new research on modern operation and impact of Three Strikes law in California

I just came across this notable new report from the California Policy Lab released a couple of months ago titled simply "Three Strikes in California." Here is the 45-page report's listing of "Key Findings" (with bolding in the original):

October 11, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, October 08, 2022

"The Problematic Structure of Indigent Defense Delivery"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Eve Brensike Primus now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The national conversation about criminal justice reform largely ignores the critical need for structural reforms in the provision of indigent defense.  In most parts of the country, decisions about how to structure the provision of indigent defense are made at the local level, resulting in a fragmented patchwork of different indigent defense delivery systems.  In most counties, if an indigent criminal defendant gets representation at all, it comes from assigned counsel or flat-fee contract lawyers rather than public defenders.  In those assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems, the lawyers representing indigent defendants have financial incentives to get rid of assigned criminal cases as quickly as possible.  Those incentives fuel mass incarceration, because the lawyers put less time into each case than their public defender counterparts and achieve poorer outcomes for their clients.  Moreover, empirical research shows that assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems are economically more costly to the public fisc than public defender systems.

This Article collects data from across the country to show how prevalent assigned-counsel and contract systems remain, explains why arguments in favor of substantial reliance on the private bar to provide for indigent defense are outdated, argues that more states need to move toward state-structured public defender models, and explains how it is politically possible for stakeholders to get there. 

October 8, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Taking account of extreme sentences under "habitual offender" laws in Mississippi and Louisiana

Tana Ganeva has this lengthy new piece at The Appeal which details the impact and import of repeat offender laws in two southern states. The full title of this piece previews in coverage: "'Habitual Offender' Laws Imprison Thousands for Small Crimes — Sometimes for Life: Data obtained by The Appeal show nearly 2,000 people in Mississippi and Louisiana are serving long — and sometimes life — sentences after they were labeled “habitual offenders." But most are behind bars for small crimes like drug possession." I recommend the full piece and here are some excerpts:

The Appeal took a deeper look at Louisiana and Mississippi, states that changed their laws in 1994 or 1995 and now have some of the highest rates of incarcerated people in the country.  The Appeal sent freedom of information requests to both the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections for data on people serving 20-year-plus sentences and, where possible, information regarding whether their sentences had been enhanced by a habitual offender statute.  We broke the data down by race, crime, time served, and sentence. In total, datasets suggest there are close to 2,000 people currently serving long sentences enhanced by habitual offender statutes in these two states.

A small number of these people in these two states committed serious crimes.  But most are serving 20-plus years primarily because of habitual offender status, where the triggering offense was drug possession, drug sale, illegal gun possession, or another crime besides murder or rape.  Scores of people are serving virtual or literal life sentences for nonviolent drug possession....

In the mid-1990s, Mississippi instituted some of the most restrictive habitual offender laws in the country and virtually did away with parole for repeat offenders....  According to data analyzed by The Appeal, as of August 4, 2021, there were nearly 600 people in Mississippi who were serving 20 years or more with no parole date and were considered habitual offenders....  In Mississippi, 75 percent of “habitual offenders” are Black, while 25 percent are white. (Other racial groups make up a negligible number.) ...

The majority of habitual offender convictions analyzed by The Appeal are linked to possession of drugs, possession of firearms, or contraband in prison. In the most extreme cases, multiple people convicted of drug crimes were given virtual life sentences because of their habitual offender status.  Perry Armstead is serving 63 years for five charges of cocaine possession and sales. Keith Baskin is serving 60 years for possession of cannabis with intent to distribute. Timothy Bell is serving 80 years after being convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon and selling meth twice. Malcolm Crump is serving 56 years for selling meth on three occasions. Paul Houser got 60 years for meth. Anthony Jefferson got 60 years for possession of cannabis with intent to distribute....

There are nearly 900 people serving sentences longer than 20 years in Louisiana because of habitual offender statutes who aren’t eligible for parole. (Overall, there are more than four thousand people serving life without parole in the state.)

According to data acquired through a freedom of information request, the most serious crimes are in the minority. Less than 3 percent of those imprisoned due to habitual offender status were convicted of first-degree murder.  Slightly less than 5 percent are serving time for second-degree murder. Almost 6 percent are serving time for rape. Meanwhile, 12.6 percent are serving 20-plus years because of habitual offender statutes triggered by a drug crime.  Of those serving decades for drug crimes, 49 people were convicted for possession, 34 for possession with intent to distribute, and 31 for distribution.

September 27, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2022

Spotlighting the ugly problems with incarceration deaths (and with data collection by the Justice Department)

Last week brought this notable bipartisan Senate report with a title that largely highlights its main points: "Uncounted Deaths in America’s Prisons & Jails: How the Department Of Justice Failed to Implement the Death In Custody Reporting Act."  Here is the report's "Executive Summary":

Approximately 1.5 million people are incarcerated in state and local correctional facilities throughout the United States.  Thousands die every year.  The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (“DCRA 2013” or “the reauthorization”) — reauthorizing a law that first passed in 2000 — requires states that accept certain federal funding to report to the Department of Justice (“DOJ” or “the Department”) about who is dying in prisons and jails.

Over the course of a ten-month bipartisan investigation into DOJ’s implementation of the law, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (“PSI” or “the Subcommittee”) found that DOJ is failing to effectively implement DCRA 2013.  DOJ’s failed implementation of DCRA 2013 undermined the effective, comprehensive, and accurate collection of custodial death data.

This failure in turn undermined transparency and Congressional oversight of deaths in custody.  The Subcommittee has found that DOJ will be at least eight years past-due in providing Congress with the DCRA 2013-required 2016 report on how custodial deaths can be reduced.  The Subcommittee also highlights the following key facts: in Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2021 alone, DOJ failed to identify at least 990 prison and arrest related deaths; and 70% of the data DOJ collected was incomplete.  DOJ failed to implement effective data collection methodology, despite internal warnings from the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).  DOJ’s failures were preventable.

Here was just some of the media coverage from the release of this report and the associated hearing:

From The Marshall Project, "‘A Moral Disgrace’: How The U.S. Stopped Counting Deaths Behind Bars; The Department of Justice is failing miserably at collecting data on deaths. Experts say that makes it hard to identify the worst prisons and jails."

From NBC News, "Hundreds of prison and jail deaths go uncounted by the federal government, report finds; A Senate subcommittee hearing is focusing on how lawmakers say the Justice Department has "failed to implement" the Death in Custody Reporting Act.

From The Washington Post, "DOJ slammed by senators over poor reporting on deaths in custody"

September 26, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 19, 2022

"What’s Dangerous Is America’s Lack of Crime Data"

The title of this post is the headline of this new opinion piece by Matthew Yglesias.  I recommend the full piece and here are excerpts:

Crime is on the political agenda in a big way this year, with Republicans zeroing in on it as their favorite topic now that gasoline prices are moderating.  Which naturally raises the question: Is crime rising?  To which the shocking answer is — nobody knows.  Not because anything unusual is happening, but simply because the usual state of America’s information on crime and policing is incredibly poor.

Contrast this state of affairs with the amount of data available on the US economy.  There are monthly updates on job creation, the unemployment rate and multiple indexes of inflation.  Commodity prices are publicized on a daily basis. Reports on gross national product come out quarterly, with timely revisions as more data comes in.  Policymakers benefit from a deeply informed debate, enriched by commentary from academics and other observers.

But on crime the US is, to a shocking extent, flying blind.  As a July report from the Brennan Center for Justice noted: “More than six months into 2022, national-level data on crime in 2021 remains unavailable.”...

The dearth of information is a problem not only for rigor-minded policymakers.  It also leaves the political arena open for manipulation by demagogues.  Since nobody actually knows in real time what’s happening, anecdotes can just stand in for made-up fears.  Since the very real murder surge of 2020 now has people primed to believe “crime is out of control” narratives, any particular instance of violence can be used to support that story....

By the same token, when murder really was soaring in 2020, it was easy for progressives to stay in ideologically convenient denial for far too long, since it was genuinely impossible to actually prove that it was happening until much later.  The people who dismissed the anecdotal evidence of rising crime were, in that case, mistaken. But the Republicans who are stoking fears of rising crime right now also appear to be mistaken.  And the lack of information about geographical patterns in murder trends means no one has much ability to assess what social or policy factors may be in play.

What makes this all especially maddening is that collecting this information in a timely manner shouldn’t be that difficult. Police departments know how many murders are committed in their jurisdiction. That information is stored on computers. It doesn’t need to be delivered to the Department of Justice via carrier pigeon. The DOJ should be given some money to create a system that can be easily updated by law enforcement agencies, and actually filing that information in a timely way should be a condition of receiving federal police grants.  A small team at the Bureau of Justice Statistics could have the job of phoning up departments who haven’t done it and “reminding” them to update the numbers.  And then the data could be released on a regular basis in a machine-readable form — the same way numbers for jobs, inflation, and other major economic statistics are.

Knowing what’s actually happening would not, by itself, solve America’s crime problems.  But successful efforts to reduce violence, such as the one in New York City in the 1990s, were driven by a commitment to rigorous measurement.  A serious federal investment in crime data collection is no panacea, and it’s not exactly a winning political slogan.  But it would be a huge boost to all kinds of crime-control efforts.

September 19, 2022 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases latest "Compassionate Release Data Report" with detailed data through March 2022

I just noticed that the US Sentencing Commission late last week published this updated compassionate release data report, which includes data on all "motions decided by the courts during fiscal years 2020, 2021, and the first half of 2022 (October 1, 2019 – March 31, 2022)."   As I have noted with prior data runs, there are lots and lots of interesting data points throughout this report covering the period just before, during and after the heights of the COVID pandemic.  

As I also have noted before, perhaps most striking data points are the dramatic variations in grant rates from various districts.  As but one of many remarkable examples, I must note again the stark disparities in the three districts of Georgia: the Southern District of Georgia granted only 6 out of 272 sentence reduction motions for a 2.2% grant rate; the Middle District of Georgia granted only 4 out of 238 sentence reduction motions for a 1.7% grant rate; but the Northern District of Georgia granted 80 out of 174 sentence reduction motions for a 46% grant rate.  And the District of Maryland — with a total of 244 sentencing reduction motions granted (though "only" a grant rate of 33%) — granted more of these motions than all the courts of five different circuits (and circuit grant rates ranged from a low of 9.8% in the Fifth Circuit to a high of 29.6% in the First Circuit).

I expect the newly confirmed Sentencing Commission will be giving these data a good luck as the consider revisions to the out-of-data guideline that is supposed to help courts considering sentencing revision motions brought under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).  

September 12, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 09, 2022

Fascinating data and transparency project from Colorado district attorneys

The Denver Post has this lengthy and interesting account of a remarkable new data project in Colorado involving numerous district attorneys.  The piece should be read in full and is headlined "Eight Colorado DAs unveil detailed data about prosecutions, racial disparities; Public dashboards show racial disparities, offer unprecedented detail."  Here is how the article gets started:

Eight Colorado district attorneys released detailed data about their operations Thursday in an attempt to be more transparent with the public amid broader criticism of racial disparities in and distrust of the U.S. criminal justice system.

The data offers a look at the inner workings of Colorado’s prosecutors in unprecedented detail, with researchers tracking 55 different aspects of prosecution, ranging from charging and bond decisions to sentencing to how long cases take to be resolved

“For too long and too often, the justice system feels like a black box of information,” 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner said during a news conference Thursday. “…That changes today.”

The data is presented publicly in online dashboards — collected at data.dacolorado.org — for each of the eight offices that participated in the research project, which was funded by an $882,000 grant from the Microsoft Justice Reform Institute. The research was carried out by the University of Denver’s Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab and by the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators project.

September 9, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 08, 2022

New Sentencing Project report addresses "How Many People Are Spending Over a Decade in Prison?"

The Sentencing Project has long done a lot of great work on long sentences, especially through various reports on life sentences (examples here and here).  Today, The Sentencing Project has a notable new publication looking at persons serving sentences of a decade or longer.  This new report is titled with a question: "How Many People Are Spending Over a Decade in Prison?".  But the subtitle of the report provides this answer: "In 2019, over half of the people in U.S. prisons — amounting to more than 770,000 people — were serving sentences of 10 years or longer — a huge jump from 2000."  Here are other "key findings" from the start of the report:

September 8, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Notable review of research on public safety and criminal justice reform from Arnold Ventures

This new webpage at Arnold Ventures explores in thoughtful ways the important question that it is title of the webpage: "What Does the Research Say About Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform?".  Here is an explanation of the effort (with emphasis in the original) along with the links to the research papers most focused on reform of the back-end of the criminal justice system:

As a philanthropy dedicated to improving lives by driving sustainable change to the justice system, the spike in homicides and the resulting political pushback by some against criminal justice reform led Arnold Ventures to reflect on the relationship between community safety and justice reform. Arnold Ventures’ programmatic work, from policing to pretrial justice to corrections, is built on the idea that reform and safety are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but can operate in tandem. 

That is why we turned to the experts to help us understand what the evidence says about the relationship between community safety, the justice system, and reform. We collaborated with eight scholars who have deep substantive and methodological expertise in their respective issue areas, and asked that they write discussion papers looking at the state of research around specific aspects of the criminal justice system. These papers each respond to two broad prompts. 

First, how does a particular aspect of the justice system advance or undermine community safety? 

Second, what is your summary or assessment of the evidence, and are there remaining research questions that need to be answered? 

The following six papers are the scholars’ independent and thoughtful reviews of the available evidence in response to those prompts:...

[Other papers looked at community-based, policing and pre-trial reforms...]

  • Dr. Jennifer Doleac (Texas A&M University) and Dr. Michael LaForest (Penn State University) discuss the limited empirical evidence of the effect of community supervision (probation and parole) policy and practice on community safety despite the scale of its use as a sanction for criminal behavior and alternative to incarceration. 
    Read the paper: Community Supervision & Public Safety
  • Dr. Daniel Nagin (Carnegie Mellon University) discusses how the current incarceration practices in the United States, particularly multi-decade sentences, are an inefficient use of public resources and are not shown by evidence to have a deterrent effect on crime. 
    Read the paper: Incarceration & Public Safety
  • Dr. Megan Denver and Ms. Abigail Ballou (Northeastern University) discuss how widespread post-conviction sanctions, restrictions, and disqualifications for individuals with criminal records and histories of justice system involvement can interact and accumulate in ways that are counterproductive to safety. 
    Read the paper: Collateral Consequences & Public Safety

These papers make a significant contribution to the public conversation as individual products, but they can also be read together as concluding: The evidence suggests there are real public safety benefits associated with the functions of the justice system.  At the same time, some of the current practices remain inefficient, produce serious harms, and operate in ways that are counterproductive to community safety.

August 2, 2022 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Great new Robina Institute report on "Examining Prison Releases in Response to COVID"

I was so pleased to see this week that the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice has this great big new report titled "Examining Prison Releases in Response to COVID: Lessons Learned for Reducing the Effects of Mass Incarceration."  The full 86-page report is a must read and it so rich and intricate, I can only here excerpt a portion of the executive summary:

In response to the global pandemic in 2020, states and the federal government began to make non-routine releases from prison in order to reduce prison populations to allow for social distancing in prison facilities. This report is aimed at describing where such prison releases occurred, the legal mechanisms used to achieve these releases, and the factors within jurisdictions that made non-routine prison releases more or less likely to occur. We write this report, not to examine the national response to the pandemic, but to better understand when and how extraordinary measures may be used to effect prison release, and to determine whether there are lessons from this experience that can be applied to reducing the effects of mass incarceration.

Prevalence of Release:

  • We estimate that a total of 80,658 people were released from prisons in 35 jurisdictions (34 states and the federal prison system) due to COVID-related policies, which was equivalent to about 5-1/2% of the total state and federal prison population in 2019.
  • Most COVID-related releases were quite modest, amounting to the equivalent of less than 10% of the 2019 prison populations in 27 of the 35 jurisdictions in which releases occurred (Figure 2).

Legal Mechanisms:

  • The legal mechanisms used most frequently to release people from prison during the pandemic were parole (11 jurisdictions), compassionate release (10 instances in 9 jurisdictions), home confinement (8 jurisdictions), commutation (7 jurisdictions), and good time or earned time credits (6 jurisdictions) (Figure 3).

Criteria for Release:

  • Type of crime, COVID health risk, and time left to serve on one’s sentence were the criteria most frequently used — either alone or in combination — to determine eligibility for release due to COVID-related policies.
  • Most release groups (39 of 73) required that a person had to have been convicted of a non-violent offense (Figure 4).
  • COVID health risks — addressing both medical vulnerability and age — were used as criteria in 38 of 73 release groups (Figure 6).
  • Most release groups (37 of 73) required that a person have a short time left to serve on their sentence (Figure 7). Though the amount of time varied from 30 days in New Mexico to 5 years in Kentucky, the average was 9 months, and the most frequently used time period was 12 months.

Political and Structural Influences:

  • Gubernatorial leadership played a larger role in whether the jurisdictions made releases, with fewer jurisdictions with Republican leadership making releases. However, determinacy may have affected how many releases were possible, with indeterminate jurisdictions making larger releases than determinate jurisdictions regardless of political leadership.
  • All but three Democratic-led jurisdictions (21 of 24) made COVID-related prison releases while only about half of Republic-led jurisdictions (14 of 27) did so (Table 4).
  • Nearly all of the jurisdictions (7 of 8) with the largest COVID-related releases — those greater than 10% of the 2019 prison population — were indeterminate in structure.

July 27, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

US Sentencing Commission reports on "Older Offenders in the Federal System"

Cover_older-offendersI received an email this morning spotlighting two interesting and important new data reports from the US Sentencing Commission. One of these new USSC reports is this 68-page effort titled "Older Offenders in the Federal System." Highlights are provided via this USSC webpage where one can find this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

Congress requires courts to consider several factors when determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed in federal cases, among them the “history and characteristics of the defendant.”  The sentencing guidelines also specifically authorize judges to consider an offender’s age when determining whether to depart from the federal sentencing guidelines.  In this report, the Commission presents information on relatively small number of offenders who were aged 50 or older at the time they were sentenced in the federal system.  In particular, the report examines older federal offenders who were sentenced in fiscal year 2021 and the crimes they committed, then assesses whether age was given a special consideration at sentencing.  This report specifically focuses on three issues that could impact the sentencing of older offenders: age and infirmity, life expectancy, and the risk of recidivism.

Older offenders commit fraud and sexual offenses at higher rates than all other offenders.

  • Older offenders had roughly three times the rate of fraud offenses (17.8%) and a greater proportion of sex offenses (7.3%), compared to offenders under age 50 (6.4% and 4.1%, respectively).
  • The rate of offenders committing sex offenses increased incrementally as the age of the offender increased. Offenders 70 and older committed sex offenses at nearly three times the rate (11.9%) of offenders under the age of 50 (4.1%).

Roughly 40 percent (40.7%) of older offenders had a physical disability prior to arrest for the instant offense.

  • The rate of offenders with a disability increased incrementally as offenders' age at sentencing increased, so that roughly two-thirds (63.3%) of offenders 70 and older had a physical disability.

About one-third (31.2%) of older offenders had used drugs or misused prescription drugs in the year prior to arrest.

  • Among older drug users, the most used substances were marijuana (32.4%) and methamphetamine (28.5%).

Older offenders have less extensive criminal histories, compared to all other federal offenders.

  • More than half (52.5%) of older offenders were in Criminal History Category (CHC) I, the lowest criminal history category, compared to 37.5 percent of offenders under 50 years of age.

The overwhelming majority (80.1%) of older offenders were sentenced to prison. However, older offenders were also more likely to receive fines and alternative sentences, compared to offenders under age 50.

  • The oldest offenders were the most likely to receive an alternative sentence or fine; roughly a third (31.3%) of offenders 65 through 69 and more than 40 percent (42.1%) of offenders 70 and older received an alternative sentence or fine.
  • The oldest offenders were most likely to have received sentences that exceed life expectancy.

Nearly forty percent (38.6%) of offenders who were sentenced at 70 years of age or older received a sentence that exceeds their life expectancy, compared to 7.1 percent of offenders 65 through 69, and less than one percent of offenders under the age of 50.

In fiscal year 2021, a nearly equal proportion of older offenders (36.7%) were sentenced within the guideline range as received a below range variance (35.5%).

  • The proportion of offenders receiving variances increased as an offender’s age at sentencing increased, with the oldest offenders being the most likely to receive a variance.
  • Offenders 65 and older were nearly as likely to receive a variance (48.9%) as they were to receive a sentence under the Guidelines Manual (51.1%).

The recidivism rate of older offenders (21.3%) was less than half that of offenders under the age of 50 (53.4%).

  • As offenders’ age at sentencing increased, recidivism rates decreased.
  • Recidivism events for older offenders were less serious, compared to offenders under the age of 50.
  • Older offenders take a longer time to recidivate, compared to their younger peers.

July 26, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission reports on "Life Sentences in the Federal System"

Cover_life-sentencesI received an email this morning spotlighting two interesting and important new data reports from the US Sentencing Commission. One of these new USSC reports is this 40-page effort titled simply "Life Sentences in the Federal System." Highlights are provided via this USSC webpage where one can find this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

There are numerous federal criminal statutes authorizing a sentence of life as the maximum sentence allowed, such as for offenses involving drug trafficking, racketeering, and firearms crimes.  While convictions under these statutes are common, sentences of life imprisonment are rare, accounting for only a small proportion of all federal offenders sentenced. 

In February 2015, the Commission released Life Sentences in the Federal Criminal Justice System, examining the application of life sentences by federal courts during fiscal year 2013.  Using data from fiscal years 2016 through 2021, this report updates and augments the Commission’s previous findings by examining the offenses that led to the life sentences imprisonment imposed, along with offender demographics, criminal histories, and victim-related adjustments.

Offenders Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

  • During fiscal years 2016 through 2021, there were 709 federal offenders sentenced to life imprisonment, which accounted for 0.2 percent of the total federal offender population.
  • Almost half (48.7%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment were convicted of murder.
  • Approximately half (47.5%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment were found to either have possessed a weapon in connection with their instant offense or were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) — for possession or use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.  This is almost five times the rate for offenders who were sentenced to less than life imprisonment (9.8%).
  • Nearly one-third (31.4%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment received an aggravating role enhancement as an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the offense, which is approximately eight times higher than those sentenced to less than life imprisonment (4.2%).
  • Offenders sentenced to life imprisonment qualified as repeat and dangerous sex offenders in 11.8 percent of cases, in comparison to 0.6 percent of offenders sentenced to less than life imprisonment.
  • The trial rate of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment was 75.6 percent, which was over thirty times higher than the 2.3 percent trial rate for all other federal offenders.
Offenders Sentenced to De Facto Life Imprisonment
  • There were 799 offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment, which accounted for 0.2 percent of the total federal offender population.
  • Half (50.6%) of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment were convicted of sexual abuse.
  • One-third (33.2%) of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment were found to either have possessed a weapon in connection with their instant offense or were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) — for possession or use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.
  • More than one-in-seven (15.4%) offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment received an aggravating role enhancement as an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the offense.
  • Offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment qualified as repeat and dangerous sex offenders in 39.4 percent of cases.
  • The trial rate of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment was 39.4 percent.

July 26, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2022

Spotlighting the "unheard-of decline in Black incarceration"

Keith Humphreys and Ekow Yankah have this notable new Chicago Tribune commentary headlined "The unheard-of decline in Black incarceration." This piece should be read in full, and here are excerpts:

Two years after George Floyd’s murder, protest-filled streets and countless invocations of a “racial reckoning,” public backlash and boredom have led many people to despair that the criminal justice system will never change.  But that dispiriting illusion is false, maybe even dangerous.  After generations of soul-crushing mass incarceration, African Americans have cause for hope: The Black imprisonment rate is at a 33-year low, having fallen to about half its level of a generation ago. But an inadvertent collaboration of ideological adversaries makes the decline of Black incarceration unspeakable.

On the one hand, the good news is hidden by racism. The narrative of inherent Black violence and immorality has been used to terrify white people and justify the oppression of Black people for centuries. As a Media Matters study demonstrated, if a criminal suspect is Black, the case is more likely to be covered on television news. Social media platforms greatly magnify the distortion. Within the narrative of inherent Black criminality, the decline in Black incarceration seems an impossibility: Black people must be in prison because that is where they belong. And even the racists who are aware of the decline in Black imprisonment may decide to keep silent — the truth is less important than the social or political gain offered by continual whispers of the Black boogeyman.

Anti-racist advocates oppose this narrative, emphasizing instead the structural forces that use fear of Black Americans to feed the fire of mass incarceration. But anti-racists may share racists’ unawareness or discomfort with declining Black incarceration. Black hopes have been dashed too many times to trust a change in their oppressor’s character. Other anti-racists are aware of the change but have fears of acknowledging it. White concern for racial justice has a history of evaporating. Two years after police murdered George Floyd, it is disheartening to see how quickly earnest proclamations of a “racial reckoning” withered into a commitment to abolish a pancake mix logo.

To be sure, the disproportionate incarceration of Black Americans remains a national tragedy that cannot be consigned to history if white people become complacent. Reformers understandably fear that focusing on the decline in Black incarceration (or positive comparison with white people) will further slow the dismantling of a system that still destroys countless lives. Still, assuming American racism is intractable creates a narrative that also cannot account for the decline in Black imprisonment.

Despite their competing premises, the racist and anti-racist narratives accidentally reinforce each other. They share a code of silence about Black de-incarceration that misleads Americans about the current racial realities of mass incarceration. In the absence of corrective information from journalists and activists, most people assume incorrectly that prisons continue to gobble up the lives of an increasing number of African Americans.

No matter our politics, we should care about what is true — the Black imprisonment rate has been dropping for a generation.  Hundreds of thousands of African Americans who would have been behind bars are now free.  Callous actors will claim this is too many, and anti-racists will argue it’s too few.  But would anyone argue with a straight face that such a dramatic change in the fate of hundreds of thousands of people warrants no discussion at all?...

In a country where so many — particularly people of color — long to see images of Black excellence celebrated, stories of Black progress should be highlighted rather than buried. Without ever forgetting the work still to be done, Americans of all races should be told of the progress that has and can be won.

I am always glad to see important data about modern incarceration emphasized, though I think op-eds could be written about all sorts of data realities going largely ignored or being misunderstood in many era.  There was precious little public discourse about mass increases in US incarceration for decades, and still very few talk about the remarkable increases and decreases in federal incarceration (and caseloads) over the last 25 years.  Though there is often discourse around private prisons, relatively few highlight what a small part they play in the national incarceration map.  Demographics such as gender and age and class (often combining with racial dynamics) can vary dramatically in incarcerated populations depending on crimes and jurisdictions, and dynamic recent modern changes in urban and rural incarceration rates have also often been overlooked or underexamined.  And, of course, data lags and other factors make it hard to even know how profoundly the COVID pandemic has reshaped our incarceration levels or whether any changes brought by COVID may prove enduring.

Put slightly differently, in this context, I do not see all that many thought-out "narratives" seeking to hide or obscure key data.  Instead, I see many advocates and media with relatively little interest in data combining with a general paucity of clear and effective data resources.  That said, given the considerable attention given to racial issues in broader criminal justice narratives and elsewhere in policy debates, I am still eager to praise Professors Humphreys and Yankah for this important commentary.  But, for me, it is just one small part of a much bigger story of political rhetoric often having little interest in complicated policy data.

A few of many older and newer related prior posts:

July 25, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (17)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Notable debate over access to sentencing data as Ohio builds out new sentencing data platform

In a few posts over the last few years (linked below), I have flagged the work of some Ohio jurists and others in the development of a statewide sentencing database.  I have had the honor of playing a small role in this work, and I have found fascinating many of the challenges and debates surrounding efforts to build out the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform.  One big lurking issue all along is now spotlighted by this new local article headlined "Statewide judges’ group wants sentencing data collected under proposed database kept secret."  Here are the excerpts from a lengthy article worth reading in full: 

A group that represents Ohio’s common pleas court judges does not want the public to see data that would be collected under a proposed statewide sentencing database for fears it could be cherry-picked and lead to criticism of the courts.  The head of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges’ Association wrote in a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court’s sentencing commission last month that judges recognize the value in the creation of a database for their own use.

Judges, however, are concerned that attorneys, journalists and other organizations could selectively pull data from the database to use “as a basis to critique imposed sentences and advocate for an overhaul to Ohio’s sentencing statutes.”  “In short, the OCPJA has significant concerns that broad public accessibility to the data would negatively impact the independence of the judiciary and interfere with its discretion in sentencing decisions,” the group’s president, Morrow County Common Pleas Court Robert Hickson, wrote.

The letter urged the seven justices to scrap proposed changes to the rules of superintendence that govern the state’s courts.  That would allow the court to run the project through the sentencing commission and come up with new proposals. In the alternative, state lawmakers should pass legislation mandating the data be exempt from Ohio’s public record laws, the letter said.... Hickson wrote that the letter represents the “unanimous position” of the group’s board.  Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan is the group’s first vice president....

Sheehan’s colleague on the bench and predecessor as administrative judge wrote a letter of his own to the Ohio Supreme Court justices in which he said the views of the state judges’ group “cannot be farther from my own.” “In my opinion, the fears and skepticism expressed in the OCPJA letter are unfounded,” Judge John J. Russo wrote.  Russo, who was elected in 2006 and served as administrative judge from 2014 to 2020, told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that keeping the data secret and available only to the judges was akin to creating a “secret club” and would only harm the public’s confidence in the justice system more than making it public....

Russo also said that the letter by the judges’ group does not reflect the stance of the majority of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.  The Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Ohio Bar Association, Black Lives Matter and Common Cause Ohio all urged the commission to make the data available to the public.

The leader of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Association expressed a similar concern that the data would not paint a complete picture of all of the factors that go into each sentencing decision, and it would be open to manipulation.  While the group stopped short of calling for the data to remain hidden from the public, it did challenge that the legislature would have to create the commission, rather than the court.

The letters are in response to the Ohio Supreme Court’s sentencing commission’s call for public comment on proposed rule changes that would create a uniform sentencing entry, a lengthy document that judges would fill out after each sentencing hearing that articulates why judges imposed each sentence.  Each county’s common pleas court uses its own system to document the sentences judges there hand down, and they vary widely.  Some courts in small, rural counties still use handwritten sentencing documents, the Supreme Court said in a 2021 article published in the court’s news letter.

The commission would take data from the document and enter it into a database kept by the court that would give those who can access it the ability to see what the average sentence each person convicted of a particular crime received in each county’s common pleas court.  The sentencing commission hopes that creating a central database for the entire state that is populated by a single, uniform document that each judge fills out will make it easier for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.  It would allow the prison system to keep track of the sentences each inmate is serving and prevent trial court judges from committing errors during sentencing that appellate courts would later overturn....

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, a former judge in Cuyahoga County who served on the bench alongside Sheehan and Russo, told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that the database will help judges make sure they’re doling out similar sentences.  “That’s not just a good idea. That’s what the law mandates now,” Donnelly said. “It’s just that, how do you do that with the lack of information and the lack of data that we have?”

Donnelly also said that the public has a right to know how their courts are operating and that he believes the data should be made public. “We all serve at the pleasure of the public,” Donnelly said of judges in state court. “Everything else about our decisions is reviewable. Why should the most important decision we make as judges, whether to incarcerate someone, be any different than any other decision we make in this system of checks and balances?”

Prior related posts:

 

UPDATE:  Cleveland.com has published this notable new opinion piece authored by Judge Ronald B. Adrine under the headline "Ohio’s Black judges support public release of criminal-sentencing database information." Here are excerpts:

The Ohio Black Judges Association Inc. (OBJA) voices its strong support for the Supreme Court of Ohio’s plan to allow public access to a proposed criminal sentencing database compiled by, among other things, race, as referenced in a recent article which appeared in The Plain Dealer.  Regrettably, our support puts us at odds with the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, which opposes public access to the database....

Our members across the state are acutely aware of the fact that the lack of data impedes legitimate inquiry into the degree to which racial justice is, or is not, a reality in Ohio.  At minimum, the existence of an open-access criminal sentencing database will sensitize all judges who make sentencing decisions to the potential for implicit bias, where it exists, and to reassure them of their positive practices, where it does not!

The position taken by the Common Pleas Judges Association calls for worst-case speculation concerning the occasional misuse of the database, while overlooking the overwhelming benefits to be realized in the majority of situations where the database is accessed.  Aggressively promoting viable efforts to increase the public’s confidence in our courts and to seek justice system accountability for all are OBJA’s primary motivators for supporting public access to the database.

We would like to assume that the vast majority of the members of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association have nothing to fear from public access to their sentencing practices.  If that assumption is incorrect, then the case for creating and maintaining the database is made even stronger.

There may be legitimate reasons for racial or other disparities that have nothing to do with bias.  If that is the case, having the database will assist in identifying them. By the same token, if the sentencing practices of individual judges suggest the need for practice adjustments, then that fact should be brought to the attention of those judges and the public should be able to monitor their progress in eliminating any explicit or implicit bias uncovered.

July 23, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Council on Criminal Justice releases "Long Sentences by the Numbers"

In this post a couple of month ago, I noted the formation of the Council of Criminal Justice's impressive Task Force on Long Sentences. Today, I was alerted to the release are this fascinating new resource from CCJ titled "Long Sentences by the Numbers."  The full resource merits a deep dive, and here are excerpts:

Launched by the Council in Spring 2022, the Task Force on Long Sentences is assessing our nation’s use of long prison terms and formulating recommendations to advance safety and justice.  This series of charts serves as a foundation for the deliberations of the group, a diverse set of experts from varied sectors of the criminal justice field and across the ideological spectrum.

The data below address three fundamental questions.  Each provides a different perspective on the nature and extent of long prison sentences, which the Task Force defines as a court-imposed prison term of 10 years or more, independent of the time people actually serve.

  • Admissions: What are the number and share of people admitted with a long prison sentence? Admissions data show changes in the frequency with which courts impose long sentences.
  • Population: What is the size of the prison population serving long sentences, and what share of the total population do these individuals represent?  Prison population data, based on a snapshot of people incarcerated at a moment in time (typically at year’s end), reveal how many people behind bars are serving long sentences.
  • Releases: What are the number and share of people released from prison after serving a long sentence and how much time did they actually serve?  Every jurisdiction has statutes and policies such as discretionary parole and credits for good behavior that permit people to be released prior to serving their maximum sentence. Release data enable us to discern how many people are released after having served 10 or more years, independent of the upper limit of their sentences.

[These data are drawn] from varying combinations of up to 29 state prison systems submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) from 2005 through 2019.  Council researchers selected the states and time period because they offered the most complete and consistent set of relevant national-level data to describe basic trends in long sentences....

Key Takeaways

  • People with long sentences account for a relatively small share of state prison admissions and releases, but because they serve long periods, their numbers stack up over time.  In 2019, 17% of people admitted to prison were sentenced to 10 years or more, and 3% of those released had served 10 years or more.  At year-end, 57% of people in prison were serving a long prison sentence, up from 46% in 2005.

  • The length of time served by people sentenced to 10 years or more has grown. Between 2005 and 2019, the average amount of time served by this group increased from 9.7 years to 15.5 years.

  • The share of people convicted of a violent crime who received long sentences grew from 7% in 2005 to 10% in 2019. The percentage of people convicted of property and drug offenses who received long sentences remained stable, at 3% and 2%, respectively.

  • The shares of Black and White people receiving long sentences have grown over time and the gap between those shares has widened, from 1 percentage point in 2005 to 4 percentage points in 2019. When accounting for conviction offenses, Black people are more likely to receive long sentences for violent crimes while White people are for some property crimes. White people convicted of drug crimes were more likely than Black people to get a long sentence in 2005 but less likely by 2019.

  • Compared to other age groups, people aged 55 and over are the fastest-growing age group serving long sentences. Between 2005 and 2019, the share of people serving long sentences who were aged 55 and over grew from 8% to 20%.

  • Men are more likely than women to receive and serve a long sentence. On average, men are about 72% more likely to receive a long sentence and over three times more likely to serve a long sentence than women, mostly because men are convicted of more serious, violent crimes. Greater shares of both men (up 4%) and women (up 3%) received sentences of 10 years or more in 2019 than in 2005.

July 20, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Federal Sentencing of Illegal Reentry: The Impact of The 2016 Guideline Amendment"

Cover_illegal-reentryThe title of this post is the title of this notable new US Sentencing Commission report. This relatively short report (only 38 pages) is summarized on this USSC webpage providing an "Overview" and a bunch of "Key Findings." Here is that overview and some of the key findings:

Overview

In 2016, the United States Sentencing Commission promulgated an amendment that comprehensively revised the guideline covering illegal reentry offenses — §2L1.2 (Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the United States).  The amendment, Amendment 802, became effective November 1, 2016, and represented the most comprehensive revision of a major guideline in the last two decades.  This report examines the impact of Amendment 802 by looking back at sentencings under §2L1.2 over the last ten fiscal years.  The report first describes the concerns leading to the amendment, including that §2L1.2’s 12- and 16-level increases were overly severe and led to variances, and that using the “categorical approach” to apply enhancements was overly complex, resource intensive, and increased litigation and uncertainty.  After outlining the changes made by Amendment 802, the report assesses its impact on guideline application for §2L1.2 offenders and on appeals involving §2L1.2.

Key Findings

  • Over the last ten fiscal years, immigration offenders have represented either the highest number or second-highest number of offenders sentenced annually.  The vast majority of immigration offenders were sentenced under §2L1.2.
     
  • Amendment 802 to the Guidelines Manual ameliorated concerns about the severity of §2L1.2’s enhancements.
    • While variance rates for §2L1.2 offenders remained largely consistent before and after the amendment, courts imposed sentences within the applicable guideline range at a higher rate on average (66.0%) in the five fiscal years after the amendment than the five fiscal years before the amendment (56.6%). Furthermore, the difference between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence imposed decreased from at least three months before the amendment to no more than one month between fiscal years 2017 and 2020, and slightly over two months in fiscal year 2021.
    • These sentencing trends likely are attributable to the decreasing severity of the sentencing enhancements applicable to offenders sentenced under §2L1.2. The number of offenders who received sentencing increases of 12 or more offense levels decreased substantially from 26,094 in the five fiscal years before the amendment to 5,497 in the five fiscal years after the amendment. The average sentencing increase similarly decreased from seven to four offense levels.
       
  • Amendment 802 significantly simplified guideline application and reduced appeals.
    • In the five fiscal years before the amendment, 31,824 offenders sentenced under §2L1.2 (37.1%) received a sentencing enhancement that potentially required courts to analyze predicate offenses using the categorical approach. That number decreased considerably to only 59 offenders (0.1%) in the five fiscal years after the amendment.
    • After Amendment 802, the number of opinions on §2L1.2 appeals decreased by 90 percent, from 239 in fiscal year 2017 to 24 in fiscal year 2021. Notably, this decline occurred even while the number of immigration sentencings rose steadily from fiscal year 2017 to a ten-year high in fiscal year 2019. By contrast, before the amendment, appellate courts issued 249 opinions on §2L1.2 appeals in fiscal year 2016 alone, and two-thirds of the appeals raised application issues relating to the categorical approach.

July 20, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

"What Do Federal Firearms Offenses Really Look Like?"

Cover_2022-firearmsThe title of this post is the title of this notable new US Sentencing Commission report. This relatively short report (only 46 pages) is summarized via this USSC webpage providing an "Overview" and a bunch of "Key Findings." Here is that overview and some of the key findings:

This report provides in-depth information on federal firearms offenders sentenced under the primary firearms guideline, §2K2.1. The Commission has published reports on various aspects of firearms offenses, including reports on armed career criminals, mandatory minimum penalties, and firearms offenders’ recidivism rates. The Commission’s prior research shows that firearms offenders are generally younger, have more extensive criminal history, and are more likely to commit a new crime than other offenders. The Commission’s previous research also shows that firearms offenders are more likely than other offenders to engage in violent criminal behavior. This publication continues the Commission’s work and provides detailed information about offenders sentenced under §2K2.1.

July 14, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Gun policy and sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2022

Furman at 50: some recent notable coverage

As noted in this recent post, the US Supreme Court's remarkable death penalty opinion in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), is now a half century and I have not decided to create a series of "Furman at 50" posts.  Unsurprisingly, I am not the only one to note the Furman milestone, and here is a round-up of some recent coverage and commentary I have seen from various sources:

From the Dalton Daily Citizen, "50 years after SCOTUS ruled death penalty cruel and unusual, race factors heavily in executions"

From the Death Penalty Information Center, "DPIC Analysis Finds Prosecutorial Misconduct Implicated in More than 550 Death Penalty Reversals or Exonerations"

From The Marshall Project, "The Supreme Court Let The Death Penalty Flourish.  Now Americans are Ending It Themselves."

From Slate, "Fifty Years Ago, the Supreme Court Tried to Reduce Racial Bias in the Death Penalty. Did It Work?"

From UPI, "50 years after Furman ruling, death penalty may come down to states, experts say"

From The Washington Post, "Death penalty’s 50-year rise and fall since Supreme Court struck it down"

Related prior posts:

July 11, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

US Sentencing Commission produces another great updated set of "Quick Facts" publications

Long-time readers have long heard me praise the US Sentencing Commission for producing a steady stream of 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").  After finalizing its fiscal year data, the USSC typically provides updated Quick Facts, and here are some of its newest ones:

Sentencing Issues

Drugs

Firearms

Sex Offenses

Offender Groups

July 5, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Furman at 50: DPIC provides a census of nearly 10,000 death sentences

As noted in this recent post, the US Supreme Court's remarkable death penalty opinion in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), is now a half-century old, which provides me with an excuse to do a series of "Furman at 50" posts.  Helpfully, I am not the only one celebrating this milestone, and the Death Penalty Information Center has created a remarkable "Death Penalty Census."  As described here, this "census is the most comprehensive database of death sentences ever assembled, containing more than 9,700 death sentences." Here is more:

In the census, DPIC has attempted to identify every death sentence handed down in the U.S. from the day Furman was decided through January 1, 2021 and track the status of each sentence. The data provide powerful evidence that the nation’s use of capital punishment continues to be arbitrary, discriminatory, and rife with error....

The database contains the name, race, and gender of each defendant sentenced to death; the state and county (or federal district or military branch) of prosecution; the year of sentencing; the outcome of the particular sentence; and the final outcome or current status of the case.

Here are just a few of many "key findings" from DPIC’s analysis of more than 9,700 death sentences that were sent to me via email:

Related prior post:

July 2, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 27, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases another recidivism report examining "status points" in criminal history calculations

Despite lacking a quorum, the US Sentencing Commission keeps churning out a remarkable amount of research in recent times, especially in the area of recidivism of federal offenders.  Today brings this notable notable USSC report on recidivism and criminal history under the title "Revisiting Status Points."  The term "status points" is a short-hard reference to the two points added to a defendant's criminal history score under guideline § 4A1.1(d) if he committed the offense while still serving a sentence in another case (eg, while being on probation or parole).  This webpage provides an overview and key findings from the new report:

Overview

In 2005, the Commission examined status points (addressed in §4A1.1(d)) as part of a broader analysis of how well the guidelines’ criminal history computation predicts recidivism.  This report revisits the examination of status points with greater focus, including a detailed analysis of their application and significance.  The report begins by outlining how criminal history is calculated under the guidelines and by reviewing prior Commission research on the association between criminal history and recidivism.  The report then examines how many offenders received status points in the last five fiscal years and compares them to offenders who did not receive status points.  Next, the report analyzes the rearrest rates for offenders with and without status points who were released from prison or began a term of probation in 2010.  Finally, the report considers how much status points contribute to the criminal history score’s prediction of rearrest.

Key Findings

In the last five fiscal years:

  • Over one-third of federal offenders (37.5%) received two “status points” under §4A1.1(d) as part of their criminal history scores. For 61.5 percent of such offenders, the inclusion of the two points resulted in a higher Criminal History Category.
  • The vast majority of offenders who received status points (92.6%) had criminal history scores that placed them in Criminal History Category III and higher, compared to a little less than half of offenders who did not receive status points (47.0%)....

Among offenders who were released in 2010:

  • Those who received status points were rearrested at similar rates to those without status points who had the same criminal history score. For example, among offenders whose criminal history score was seven, 69.6 percent of those with status points and 70.4 percent of those without status points were rearrested in the eight years after release.
  • Three-fifths (61.1%) of offenders who received status points had five or more criminal history points for prior sentences (i.e., before adding in two status points). These offenders had a statistically similar rearrest rate to offenders without status points who had the same number of points for prior sentences.
  • The remaining two-fifths (38.9%) of offenders who received status points had one to four criminal history points for prior sentences (i.e., before adding in two status points). These offenders had a statistically higher rearrest rate than offenders without status points who had the same number of points for prior sentences.
  • Status points only minimally improve the criminal history score’s successful prediction of rearrest — by 0.2 percent. With status points included in the calculation for eligible offenders, the score successfully predicts rearrest 65.1 percent of the time, compared to 64.9 percent of the time with status points removed.

June 27, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases another report on "Length of Incarceration and Recidivism"

A few years ago, as noted in this blog post, the US Sentencing Commission released a report titled "Length of Incarceration and Recidivism."  Today, the USSC has issued another report under the same title, and this webpage provides an overview and key findings:

Overview

This study, the seventh in the recidivism series, examines the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism. In 2020, the Commission published its initial comprehensive study on length of incarceration and recidivism.  In that study, which examined offenders released in 2005, the Commission found that federal offenders receiving sentences of more than 60 months were less likely to recidivate compared to a similar group of offenders receiving shorter sentences.  This study replicates the prior analysis, however, it examines a more current cohort of federal offenders released in 2010.  This study examines the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism, specifically exploring three potential relationships that may exist: incarceration as having a deterrent effect, a criminogenic effect, or no effect on recidivism.

This study examines 32,135 federal offenders who satisfied the following criteria:

  • United States citizens;
  • Re-entered the community during 2010 after discharging their sentence of incarceration or by commencing a term of probation;
  • Not reported dead, escaped, or detained;
  • Have valid FBI numbers which could be located in criminal history repositories (in at least one state, the District of Columbia, or federal records).

Key Findings

  • The results of this study, examining federal offenders released in 2010, are almost identical to the findings established in prior Commission research examining federal offenders released in 2005.  In both studies, the odds of recidivism were lower for federal offenders sentenced to more than 60 months incarceration compared to a matched group of offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • The odds of recidivism were approximately 29 percent lower for federal offenders sentenced to more than 120 months incarceration compared to a matched group of federal offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • The odds of recidivism were approximately 18 percent lower for offenders sentenced to more than 60 months up to 120 months incarceration compared to a matched group of federal offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • For federal offenders sentenced to 60 months or less incarceration, the Commission did not find any statistically significant differences in recidivism.

June 21, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, May 13, 2022

Federal prison population up a lot more than another 1,500 persons in a little more than a month

Regular readers are now used to my regular monthly posts about the federal prison population based on Bureau of Prison data.  These posts of late have regularly noted significant and steady population growth in recent months  In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1,100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March.  And this post on April 8 noted that it then took only three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners between mid March and early April. 

The federal Bureau of Prisons now has updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates" as of May 12, 2022, and these basic growth trends are continuing.  As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count was at 155,274, but now as of May 12, the total number of federal inmates is at 156,939.  So, in just the last five weeks, there has been another 1,655 more federal prisoners added to the population compared to the total in early April.  If this pace of federal prison growth continues in coming months, it is quite possible that 2022 could experience a level of federal incarceration growth we have not seen in decades. 

As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases).  Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."   To his credit, since my last posting on prison population, Prez Biden did grant 75 commutation to federal inmates (most of whom were already serving their time on home confinement).  But a one-time grant of 75 clemencies necessarily looks somewhat paltry in the face of week-over-week-over-week-over-week federal prison population growth averaging more than 300 persons.

May 13, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 09, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases latest detailed "Compassionate Release Data Report"

Cr-line-chart-2022_cropVia email, I got word that the US Sentencing Commission today published this updated compassionate release data report.  Here is the very brief accounting of the report from the email (as well as a reprinting of the graphic that appears as Figure 1 of the report):

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts received thousands of compassionate release motions, most filed by offenders.  This report provides an analysis of the compassionate release motions filed with the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission received the following information from the courts on motions decided during fiscal years 2020 and 2021 (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2021):

  • 3,867 offenders were granted compassionate release. This represents 17.2% of motions.

  • 18,653 offenders were denied compassionate release. This represents 82.8% of motions.

There are lots and lots of interesting data points throughout this data report, including data highlighting that people sentenced long ago (and before the guidelines became advisory) had significantly higher success in getting a sentence reduction.  Also interesting is the data detailing the reasons that courts provided for granting these sentencing reduction motions, which suggests some small evolution in stated reasons from FY 2020 to FY 2021.

But most striking data are those details the dramatic variations in grant rates from various districts. As but one of many remarkable examples, consider the three districts of Georgia: the Southern District of Georgia granted only 5 out of 248 sentence reduction motions for a 2% grant rate; the Middle District of Georgia granted only 4 out of 217 sentence reduction motions for a 1.8% grant rate; but the Northern District of Georgia granted 76 out of 170 sentence reduction motions for a 44.7% grant rate.  One could also tell an island variation story, and no motions were granted (out of only six) in the Virgin Island district; but that lovely island district of Puerto Rico saw 79.2% of motions (19 of 24) granted. 

Remarkably, the District of Maryland — with a total of 211 sentencing reduction motions granted (though "only" a grant rate of 32.7% with 646 motions) — granted more of these motions that all the courts of the Fifth Circuit!  (The Fifth Circuit had the lower total circuit grant rate of 9.3% with only 204 motions granted out of 2,197 total brought.) 

May 9, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Important new report explores "The Limits of Recidivism: Measuring Success After Prison"

26459-0309276977-450The quoted portion of this post is the title of this important new report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Here is an account of this report from the NAS website:

Nearly 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons annually. Whether these individuals will successfully reintegrate into their communities has been identified as a critical measure of the effectiveness of the criminal legal system.  However, evaluating the successful reentry of individuals released from prison is a challenging process, particularly given limitations of currently available data and the complex set of factors that shape reentry experiences.

The Limits of Recidivism: Measuring Success After Prison finds that the current measures of success for individuals released from prison are inadequate.  The use of recidivism rates to evaluate post-release success ignores significant research on how and why individuals cease to commit crimes, as well as the important role of structural factors in shaping post-release outcomes.  The emphasis on recidivism as the primary metric to evaluate post-release success also ignores progress in other domains essential to the success of individuals returning to communities, including education, health, family, and employment.

In addition, the report highlights the unique and essential insights held by those who have experienced incarceration and proposes that the development and implementation of new measures of post-release success would significantly benefit from active engagement with individuals with this lived experience.  Despite significant challenges, the report outlines numerous opportunities to improve the measurement of success among individuals released from prison and the report’s recommendations, if implemented, will contribute to policies that increase the health, safety, and security of formerly incarcerated persons and the communities to which they return.

The full report runs a full 200 pages, and this three-page pdf provides highlights.  And this press release also provides this additional overview and more summary details, and here is an excerpt:

Recidivism is an inadequate measurement of success after release from prison, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report recommends researchers develop supplementary measures that evaluate success across multiple areas of a person’s life after prison — including employment, housing, health, social support, and personal well-being — and that measure interactions with the criminal justice system with more nuance. Federal efforts should be directed to developing national standards for recidivism data and new measurements....

“Our report draws on the expertise of individuals who have experienced reentry, those who work in corrections and reentry services, as well as victims’ advocates and many other communities — and it’s clear that it’s time we recognize the numerous shortcomings of relying exclusively on recidivism data,” said Richard Rosenfeld, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Better measures could open many doors for better decision-making and policy.”...

Recidivism is also limited in that it is a binary measure, says the report. Decades of research have shown that ceasing criminal activity is a process and may involve setbacks. Recidivism rates fail to capture indicators of progress toward the cessation of criminal activity, such as reductions in the seriousness of criminal activity or increases in time between release and a criminal event. Researchers should supplement recidivism rates with these measures of moving away from crime, the report says.

The report recommends the development of new measures of post-release success that take into account a number of factors in people’s lives after incarceration, including personal well-being, education, employment, housing, family and social supports, health, civic and community engagement, and legal involvement.  In particular, significant efforts — including by federal agencies — should be directed to developing national standards for measuring post-release success.  Creating national standards could make data easier to compare across programs and jurisdictions. Creating a website that contains core measures and data collection instruments could hasten development of these standards, the report says.

Federal agencies, including the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and National Institutes of Health, should convene research panels to assess new measures of post-release success.  These agencies should also solicit grant proposals from researchers and practitioners who work collaboratively with formerly incarcerated people to review new measures.

Researchers should also develop new ways to measure barriers to and facilitators of post-release success, which could help improve understanding of how to best serve those released from prison. Individuals released from prison face a number of significant barriers, such as returning to communities without adequate employment opportunities, or lacking access to mental health counseling, among others — and better measures could enhance our understanding of which community and policy factors make post-release success more or less likely.

May 5, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 01, 2022

"Abolishing the Evidence-Based Paradigm"

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

The belief that policies and procedures should be data-driven and “evidence-based” has become criminal law’s leading paradigm for reform.  This evidence-based paradigm, which promotes quantitative data collection and empirical analysis to shape and assess reforms, has been widely embraced for its potential to cure the emotional and political pathologies that led to mass incarceration.  It has influenced reforms across the criminal procedure spectrum, from predictive policing through actuarial sentencing.  The paradigm’s appeal is clear: it promises an objective approach that lets data – not politics — lead the way and purports to have no agenda beyond identifying effective, efficient reforms.

This Article challenges the paradigm’s core claims.  It shows that the evidence-based paradigm’s objectives, its methodology, and its epistemology advance conventional assumptions about what the criminal legal system should strive to achieve, whom it should target, and whose voices and interests matter.  In other words, the evidence-based paradigm is political, and it does have an agenda.  And that agenda, informed by neoliberalism and the enduring legacy of white supremacy in the criminal legal system, strengthens — rather than challenges — the existing system.

The Article argues that, if left unchallenged, the evidence-based paradigm will continue to reproduce the system’s disparities and dysfunctions, under the veneer of scientific objectivity.  Thus, it must be abolished and replaced with a new approach that advances a true paradigm shift about the aims of criminal legal reform and the role and definition of data and empiricism in advancing that vision.

May 1, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2021"

The US Sentencing Commission, despite the persistent lack of a quorum, continues churn out federal sentencing data and helpful reports about that data.  This week brings its regular annual review of federal criminal case data, released under the title "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2021."  The full 32 page report is available at this link, and the Commission describes and summarizes the report on this webpage in this way:

Summary

The United States Sentencing Commission received information on 57,377 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced in fiscal year 2021.  Among these cases, 57,287 involved an individual offender and 90 involved a corporation or other “organizational” offender.  The Commission also received information on 4,680 cases in which the court resentenced the offender or otherwise modified the sentence that had been previously imposed.  This publication provides an overview of these cases.

Highlights

A review of cases reported to the Commission in fiscal year 2021 reveal the following:

  • The 57,287 individual original cases reported to the Commission in fiscal year 2021 represent a decrease of 7,278 (11.3%) cases from fiscal year 2020, and the lowest number of cases since fiscal year 1999.  The number of offenders sentenced in the federal courts reached a peak in fiscal year 20114 and the number of cases reported in fiscal year 2021 was 33.5 percent below that level.
    • Despite the decrease in overall caseload, sizeable increases were reported in drug trafficking, firearms, sex abuse, child pornography and money laundering cases.
  • Cases involving drugs, immigration, firearms, and fraud, theft, or embezzlement accounted for 83.1% of all cases reported to the Commission.
  • Drug offenses overtook immigration offenses as the most common federal crime in fiscal year 2021, accounting for 31.3% of the total caseload.
    • Drug possession cases continued a five-year downward trend, decreasing 29.6 percent from fiscal year 2020, while the number of drug trafficking cases rose 7.4 percent after reaching a five-year low in 2020.
    • Two-thirds (67.7%) of drug trafficking offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.
    • Methamphetamine remained the most prevalent drug type. The 8,494 methamphetamine cases accounted for 48.0 percent of all drug crimes. The proportion of methamphetamine cases has increased steadily since fiscal year 2017, when those cases accounted for 36.6 percent of all drug cases.
    • The number of fentanyl cases increased 45.2 percent from the year before and now constitute the fourth most numerous drug type. In contrast, the proportion of the drug caseload involving heroin and marijuana has steadily decreased over the last five years.

April 26, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases FY 2022 first quarter sentencing data (with notably low percentage of within-range sentences)

This weekend I noticed that the US Sentencing Commission just published here its latest quarterly data report which sets forth "1st Quarter 2022 Preliminary Cumulative Data (October 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021)."  These new data provide another official accounting of how the COVID pandemic has impacted federal sentencing.  Specifically, 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 has seen a rebounding of total cases sentenced, but this latest quarter had just over 15,000 total federal cases sentenced.  Figure 2 also shows that a steep decline in immigration cases continues to primarily accounts for the decrease in overall cases sentenced.

As I have noted before, the other big COVID era trend is a historically large number of below-guideline variances being granted, and this trend has now extended over the last six quarters (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  Though one possible explanation for this trend is that more federal judges are imposing lower sentences because of COVID-related concerns, other data suggest that other factors may be in play.  Specifically, Figure 5 shows that the average guideline minimum and average sentences for all cases has been historically high during the COVID era, which is likely a product of the altered case mix with fewer immigration case and perhaps also because federal prosecutors during COVID are more likely to be moving forward with the most aggravated of cases.  With the "Average Guideline Minimum" and also the "Average Sentence" higher in all COVID-era quarters, we may be seeing a higher percentage of below-guideline sentences largely because the guideline benchmarks are particularly high. 

Whatever the full explanation, in this most recent quarter the data show that only 41.6% of all federal sentences are imposed "Within Guideline Range."  I think this number around the lowest it may have ever been.  And yet, this still mean that more than two out of every five cases are imposed within the guidelines while all the others are still sentenced in the shadow of the guidelines.  (Figure 5 shows how closely the sentences actually imposed and guideline ranges track each other.)  So, even with a notably low percentage of within-range sentences, the guidelines still matter a lot (and many of them remain badly broken).  We should all hope that there will be appointments to the US Sentencing Commission soon so that the government agency tasked by Congress with establishing and improving "sentencing policies and practices for the Federal criminal justice system" can finally get back into full swing.

April 24, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases new report providing a "deep dive into state prison populations"

As detailed in this press release, today the "the Prison Policy Initiative published Beyond the Count, a report that examines the most recent and comprehensive demographic data about people in state prisons and provides a groundbreaking view of the lives of incarcerated people before they were locked up."  Here is more about the report from the press release:

The report analyzes data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ “Survey of Prison Inmates,” collected in 2016 and released in late 2020.  The data show what many in the criminal justice reform movement already know: that the U.S. criminal justice system today locks up the least powerful people in society.  Key takeaways include:

  • Many, if not most, people in prison grew up struggling financially. 42% of survey respondents said their family received public assistance before they were 18. Respondents also reported uncommonly high levels of homelessness, foster care, and living in public housing before the age of 18.

  • Most individuals in state prisons report that their first arrest happened when they were children. 38 percent of the people BJS surveyed reported a first arrest before age 16, and 68% reported a first arrest before age 19. The average survey respondent had been arrested over 9 times in their life.

  • The typical person in state prison is 39 years old and has a 10th grade education, a fact that is most likely linked to youth confinement, which disrupts a young person’s life and schooling.

  • Half (49%) of people in state prisons meet the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD), and 65% were using an illicit substance in the immediate lead-up to their incarceration, suggesting that many people who are not locked up for drug offenses are still victims of our country’s choice to criminalize substance use rather than treat it as a health issue.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s report includes more than 20 detailed data tables that allow readers to better understand the people who are in state prisons and the challenges they have faced in their lives.  Beyond the Count also includes a section diving into the data on the race, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation of people in state prisons, explaining that a disproportionate number of incarcerated people are racial minorities, very young or very old, or LGBTQ.  Many of the key demographic findings in Beyond the Count (such as incarcerated people’s age at first arrest) are also broken down by race or gender.  While the data in this report is about people in state prisons, it does not allow statistics to be broken out for individual states.

April 13, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Could a shortage of state prosecutors put a further dent in mass incarceration?

Professor John Pfaff effectively documented the important insights, discussed in this article about his 2017 book Locked In, that more prosecutors filing more felony charges was an important contributor to modern mass incarceration.  Against that backdrop, this new Reuters article has me wondering if fewer prosecutors filling fewer charges might further contribute now to declining incarceration.  The article is headlined "Prosecutors wanted: District attorneys struggle to recruit and retain lawyers," and here are excerpts:

District attorneys’ offices across the U.S. are struggling to recruit and retain lawyers, with some experiencing vacancies of up to 16% and a dearth of applicants for open jobs, according to interviews with more than a dozen top prosecutors and five state and national prosecutors’ associations.

The district attorneys said the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing concern about racial inequities in the criminal justice system — compounded by long-standing issues with relatively low pay and burnout — have made a career as a state prosecutor a tougher sell in the past several years.

“We're seeing a prosecutor shortage throughout the country; it's not limited to large jurisdictions versus small jurisdictions,” said Nelson Bunn, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, a trade group with 5,000 members....

Staffing shortages are affecting prosecutors’ decisions about whether to bring certain criminal cases to trial, according to Anthony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York. "We don’t get to choose the crimes that come in," said Jordan, who is the district attorney in Washington County, New York. "But if you don’t have enough people to prosecute them then you have to let certain ones go.”

Data from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, Arizona illustrate that challenge.  The number of cases the office prosecuted dropped from nearly two-thirds of felonies referred by law enforcement in 2018 to under half in 2020. And the number of vacancies in the office of 338 attorneys continues to rise — increasing nearly 53% between July 2020 and April 2022.

Recent BJS data, flagged here, indicate that the national prison population has declined nearly 25% from 2010 to 2020, although a good portion (but not all) of this prison population decline has been a consequence of COVID pandemic dynamics.  Ultimately, a number of legal and extra-legal forces have been contributing to a decline in incarceration in recent years.  And Pfaff's work suggests that, if there is a sustained period of fewer prosecutors filling fewer charges nationwide, we should expect some continued declines (or at least reduced likelihood of US prison populations growing significantly in coming years).

April 12, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, March 31, 2022

BJS releases new report on "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2020 – Statistical Tables"

I just noticed that last week the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new accounting of correctional populations in this document titled ""Correctional Populations in the United States, 2020 – Statistical Tables." The first page of the 14-page document provides this overview and "highlights":

At yearend 2020, an estimated 5,500,600 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems in the United States, 11% fewer than at the same time the previous year.  This was the first time since 1996 that the total correctional population dropped to less than 5.6 million.  About 1 in 47 adult U.S. residents (2.1%) were under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 2020, a decrease from 1 in 40 (2.5%) at the end of 2019.  This report summarizes data on populations supervised by probation or parole agencies and those incarcerated in state or federal prisons or in the custody of local jails. 

  • About 7 in 10 persons under correctional supervision were supervised in the community (3,890,400) at yearend 2020, while about 3 in 10 (1,691,600) were incarcerated in a state or federal prison or local jail.
  • The decline in the correctional population during 2020 was due to decreases in both the community supervision population (down 276,700 or 6.6%) and the incarcerated population (down 294,400 or 18.9%).
  • From 2010 to 2020, the correctional population decreased 22.4% (down 1,588,400 persons).
  • From 2010 to 2020, the decrease in the probation population accounted for 63.1% of the total decline in the correctional population.
  • Among persons under community supervision at yearend 2020, the majority were on probation (3,053,700), while a smaller portion were on parole (862,100).
  • During the past decade, the parole population was the only segment of the correctional population to increase, growing from 11.9% of those under correctional supervision in 2010 to 15.7% in 2020.
  • At yearend 2020, about 2,140 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents were under correctional supervision.
  • The incarceration rate dropped each year during the last decade, from 960 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents at yearend 2010 to 660 per 100,000 at yearend 2020.

March 31, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

US Sentencing Commission publishes 2021 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics

I received news via email today that the US Sentencing Commission has now published its 2021 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. Here are the links and highlights that appeared in the USSC email:

FY21 Fast Facts

The Sourcebook presents information on the 57,287 federal offenders sentenced in FY21 (October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021)—a sentencing caseload that decreased by more than 7,000 from the previous fiscal year.

  • Drug trafficking, immigration, firearms, and fraud crimes together comprised 83% of the federal sentencing caseload in FY21.  
  • Drug trafficking was the most common federal crime type sentenced, accounting for 31% of the caseload. 
  • Immigration cases accounted for the next largest group (30%) but decreased by more than one-third from the number of those cases in FY20. 
  • Methamphetamine continued to be the most common drug type in the federal system, and a steadily growing portion of the drug caseload (up from 31% of drug cases in FY16 to 48% in FY21).
    • In FY21, Fentanyl moved into the top five drug types in the federal caseload. The Commission has added it to the Drug Offenses section of the Sourcebook
  • Methamphetamine trafficking continued to be the most severely punished federal drug crime (90 months).
  • Two-thirds (67%) of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, holding steady from the previous year.
  • 69% of federal offenders were sentenced under the Guidelines Manual (either within range or outside the range for departure reasons in the manual). 

Agency Highlights

The Annual Report presents an overview of the Commission's work in FY21.

  • Beginning in FY21 and continuing into FY22, the Commission has operated with only one voting commissioner, lacking the quorum required to promulgate guideline amendments. The Commission’s other statutory duties are unaffected by the lack of four voting commissioners.
  • The Commission published new findings from its largest recidivism study yet—combining Commission and FBI data to study more than 32,000 federal offenders over an 8-year follow-up period.
    • The Commission has now released reports on firearms, drug trafficking, and violent offenders with more reports forthcoming.
  • The Commission also continued to research specific issues of ongoing congressional concern and deliberation—releasing a report on the emerging problem of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, and two reports updating its 2012 report to Congress on child pornography offenses.
  • In late September 2021, the Commission released the Judiciary Sentencing INformation (JSIN) tool—an online sentencing data resource developed for judges but made available to the public at large. The platform provides quick and easy online access to sentencing data for similarly-situated defendants, including the types of sentences imposed and average and median sentences.
  • In FY21, the Commission conducted 115 virtual training sessions and more than 13,000 individuals attended live, online, or on-demand prerecorded training sessions—a three-fold increase over the number of trainees in a typical year.

March 16, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

New Sentencing Project report details scope of youth confinement

This new report from The Sentencing Project, titled "Too Many Locked Doors" and authored by Josh Rovner, documents the "wide and deep footprint of youth incarceration." Here is the start of its Executive SUmmary:

The United States incarcerates an alarming number of children and adolescents every year.  Disproportionately, they are youth of color.

Given the short- and long-term damages stemming from youth out of home placement, it is vital to understand its true scope. In 2019, there were more than 240,000 instances of a young person detained, committed, or both in the juvenile justice system.  However, youth incarceration is typically measured via a one-day count taken in late October.

This metric vastly understates its footprint: at least 80% of incarcerated youth are excluded from the one-day count.

This under-count is most prevalent for detained youth, all of whom have been arrested but have yet to face a court hearing. The following are examples of the systemic under-representation of detained youth in the one-day count:

• Thirty-one youths charged with drug offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Twenty-five youths charged with public order offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Seventeen youths charged with property offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Eleven youths charged with person offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

The variances in commitment are smaller but still noteworthy: more than three youth are committed each calendar year for each youth appearing in the one-day count.

The decade-long drop in detention and commitment masks how common detention remains for youth in conflict with the law. Hundreds of thousands of youth are referred to juvenile courts annually; roughly one-quarter of the time, they are detained.  That proportion has crept upward over a decade in which arrests have declined dramatically.

Data on youth detentions and commitment reveal sharp racial and ethnic disparities. Youth of color encounter police more often than their white peers and are disproportionately arrested despite modest differences in behavior that cannot explain the extent of arrest disparities.  Disparities in incarceration start with arrests but grow at each point of contact along the justice system continuum. In roughly one-quarter of delinquency cases throughout the decade, a youth was detained pre-adjudication. When youth of color are arrested, they are more likely to be detained than their white peers.

March 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022"

Wholepie22_twittercard_800x418Many folks like calling March 14 "Pi Day," and for sentencing fans today is especially worth celebrating because the amazing folks at the Prison Policy Initiative have today posted their latest, greatest version of PPI's amazing incarceration "pie" graphic and associated report. "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022" provides a spectacular accounting of the particulars of who and how people are incarcerated in the United States.  As I have said in the past, the extraordinary "pies" produced by PPI impart more information in one image than just about any other single resource.  Here is part of the report's introductory text and the concluding discussion:

Can it really be true that most people in jail are legally innocent? How much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs, or the profit motives of private prisons? How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed decisions about how people are punished when they break the law? These essential questions are harder to answer than you might expect. The various government agencies involved in the criminal legal system collect a lot of data, but very little is designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one “criminal justice system;” instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

This report offers some much-needed clarity by piecing together the data about this country’s disparate systems of confinement. It provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration and overlooked issues that call for reform....

The United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Looking at the big picture of the 1.9 million people locked up in the United States on any given day, we can see that something needs to change. Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice of the carceral pie and ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each group behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.

Even narrow policy changes, like reforms to bail, can meaningfully reduce our society’s use of incarceration. At the same time, we should be wary of proposed reforms that seem promising but will have only minimal effect, because they simply transfer people from one slice of the correctional “pie” to another or needlessly exclude broad swaths of people. Keeping the big picture in mind is critical if we hope to develop strategies that actually shrink the “whole pie.”

March 14, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Highlighting some disparities identified in recent "Dealing in Lives" report on federal life sentences for drug offenses

In this post a few days ago, I spotlighted this terrific new research paper authored by Alex Fraga, who serves as a Senior Research Associate at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).  The paper, titled "Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020," is the focal point of this new Filter article titled "Federal Life Sentences for Drugs: Unconscionable and Massively Biased." Here is some of the coverage:

Studying federal life and de facto life sentences for drugs in federal courts from 1990 to 2020, Dr. Fraga found stunningly awful racial disparities.  Federal life sentences are practically reserved for defendants who are Black (62.4 percent) or Hispanic (22 percent).  Crack cocaine was the drug involved in roughly half of federal life sentences, yet the disparities held independent of drug type.

In addition, many people were punished more harshly for wanting to exercise their constitutional rights.  As Fraga writes, “An astonishing 72% percent of those sentenced to life or de facto life for drug trafficking exercised their right to trial.”

When the system is largely a conveyor belt of plea bargains, with over 90 percent of cases never going to trial, “astonishing” is right.  Defendants who demand that prosecutors meet their burden of proof are often hit with harsher charges and sentencing outcomes.... 

Yet another layer of inconsistency and arbitrariness in federal drug sentencing exposed by the report covers is geography-based. Just five districts — three in Florida, one in Virginia and one in South Carolina — accounted for 25 percent of all federal life and de facto life sentences imposed for drug trafficking during the study period.  For context, there are 93 federal court districts in the nation. Each has its own presidentially-appointed US attorney, who enjoys a wide band of discretion on who to charge and with what.

How could this happen? Despite ostensible efforts toward uniformity, federal courthouses in different parts of the country have developed their own local legal cultures. For example, in southern Georgia, there is no public defender office for impoverished people charged with federal crimes; they receive appointed attorneys who are often uninvested and lack expertise in criminal law.  That district also has some of the harshest sentencing outcomes in the country.

I am grateful to see this engagement with some of the data in the new report, and there are so many other interesting findings therein.  As mentioned previously, a number of the paper's key findings (and visuals) can be viewed at this DEPC webpage.

Prior related post:

March 10, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

"Social Trust in Criminal Justice: A Metric"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Joshua Kleinfeld and Hadar Dancig-Rosenberg. Here is its abstract:

What is the metric by which to measure a well-functioning criminal justice system?  If a modern state is going to measure performance by counting something — and a modern state will always count something — what, in the criminal justice context, should it count?  Remarkably, there is at present no widely accepted metric of success or failure in criminal justice.  Those there are — like arrest rates, conviction rates, and crime rates — are deeply flawed.  And the search for a better metric is complicated by the cacophony of different goals that theorists, policymakers, and the public bring to the criminal justice system, including crime control, racial justice, retributive justice, and social solidarity.

This Article proposes a metric based on the concept of social trust.  The measure of a well- or poorly functioning criminal system is its marginal effects on (1) the level of trust a polity’s members have toward the institutions, officials, laws, and actions that comprise the criminal justice system; (2) the level of trust a polity’s members have, in virtue of the criminal system’s operations, toward government generally (beyond the criminal justice system); and (3) the level of trust a polity’s members have toward one another following incidents of crime and responses to crime.  Social trust, we argue, both speaks to an issue at the philosophical core of crime and punishment and serves as a locus of agreement among the many goals people bring to the criminal justice system.  The concept can thus be a site of overlapping consensus, performing the vital function of enabling liberal societies to make policy despite disagreement about first principles.

February 24, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

"Criminal Violations"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Jacob Schuman and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Violations of community supervision are major drivers of incarceration.  Four million people are on probation, parole, or supervised release, and one-third of them will eventually be found in violation, sending 350,000 people to prison each year.  To reduce incarceration rates, criminal-justice reformers have called to lower sentences for non-criminal “technical violations” like missed meetings, skipped curfews, etc.

In this Article, I offer the first comprehensive analysis of “criminal violations,” the other half of cases where people violate their supervision by committing new crimes.  Based on an original empirical study of U.S. Sentencing Commission data and an examination of federal caselaw, I make three novel observations.  First, despite the popular focus on technical violations, criminal violations are the primary drivers of punishment via revocation of supervised release, accounting for two-thirds of the total prison time imposed. Second, while technical violations allow the government to punish non-criminal behavior, criminal violations give the government an additional justification for penalizing criminal conduct and an easier alternative to criminal prosecution.  Third, the immigration crime of illegal reentry is the basis for as many as one-third of all felony violations, revealing that supervised release is not just a program of surveillance and support, but also a tool of immigration enforcement.

After describing these observations, I critique the law by arguing that revocation for criminal violations inflicts unfair double punishment and erodes constitutional rights. Revoking supervised release for criminal violations triggers an exception to the ordinary rules of prosecution, which federal law has generalized into a standard practice of government.  When defendants on supervised release commit new crimes, prosecution without revocation is a better and fairer way to punish them.

February 17, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

New Pew report spotlights "Drug Arrests Stayed High Even as Imprisonment Fell From 2009 to 2019"

Drug arrests Fig-1The quoted part of the title of this post is the title of this awesome new "issue brief" from the folks at Pew.  The full document merits close and repeated review, because there are stories both good and bad about this effective (pre-pandemic) accounting of the war on drugs. Here is part of the overview:

Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy No. 1,” and Congress passed legislation that sought to expand treatment and research. However, at the same time, intensified enforcement launched what became known as the “War on Drugs.” The harsher penalties led to a 1,216% increase in the state prison population for drug offenses, from 19,000 to 250,000 between 1980 and 2008.  And although prison populations have since declined, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses remains substantially larger than in 1980 — more than 171,000 in 2019 — and drug misuse and its harms have continued to grow.  Prior research has found that no relationship exists between state drug imprisonment rates and drug use or drug overdose deaths and that, from 2009 to 2019, past-year illicit drug use among Americans 12 or older increased from 15% to nearly 21% and the overdose death rate more than tripled.

To better identify and understand recent changes in and effects of the use of the criminal legal system to address drug problems, The Pew Charitable Trusts analyzed publicly available national data on drug arrests and imprisonment, drug treatment, and harm from drug misuse from 2009 through 2019 — the most recent decade for which data is available. The study found divergent enforcement trends—high rates of arrest but substantially reduced incarceration — coupled with a lack of treatment options and high mortality rates among people with illicit drug dependence.

  • Drug possession arrests held steady at more than a million a year, in stark contrast with a large reduction in overall arrests, which dropped 29%.

  • Only 1 in 13 people who were arrested and had a drug dependency received treatment while in jail or prison.

  • Racial disparities in drug enforcement declined. Arrests of Black people for drug offenses fell by 37%, more than three times the drop among White people.

  • Increased arrests of White individuals for possession of methamphetamine offset declines in marijuana arrests and drove the reduction in racial disparities.

  • The numbers of people admitted to and held in state prisons for drug offenses both fell by about a third, accounting for 61% of the overall reduction in prison populations and 38% of the total decline in admissions.

  • The decline in the number of Black people incarcerated for drug offenses made up 26% of the decrease in prison admissions and 48% of the drop in the prison population.

  • Drug- and alcohol-related mortality rates increased fivefold in prisons and threefold in jails despite the decreases in the number of people in prison for drug offenses.

These trends indicate both an ongoing reliance on the criminal legal system to address drug misuse and that this strategy is costly and ineffective.  Meaningful reductions in total drug arrests and drug-related deaths may not be achieved without shifting to a public health response that prioritizes evidence-based treatment approaches.

February 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9)

Declines in 2021 leaves US death row populations at lowest level in three decades

Thanks to this posting at the Death Penalty Information Center, I just saw that the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has released its Fall 2021 edition of Death Row USA. The full LDF report runs 61 pages, but the DPIC summary provides these notable highlights:

In its Fall 2021 edition of Death Row USA (DRUSA), released February 7, 2022, LDF reported that the number of people on state, federal, or military death rows or facing possible capital resentencing across the United States had fallen to 2,455 as of October 1, 2021, down by 98 from LDF’s Fall 2020 report.  It is the lowest total since January 1991 when 2,412 people were on U.S. death rows or faced jeopardy of being resentenced to death.  Death row, which peaked at 3,717 in the July 2001 DRUSA report, has declined by 34.0% since then.

LDF found that the capital convictions or death sentences of 219 people listed in its report have been reversed, leaving roughly one in eleven cases awaiting retrial or resentencing or with grants of relief still subject to prosecutorial appeal.  Excluding those individuals, the number people in the United States facing active death sentences fell to 2,236 from its from total of 2,326 in October 2020.

LDF reported that 849 people, or 34.6% of those on death row or facing capital resentencing as of October 1, 2021 were in states with moratoria on executions.  Including those in other states whose death sentences have been reversed, LDF calculated that there were 1,034 currently unenforceable death sentences, comprising 41.4% of all active cases in which a death sentence has been imposed.  That left 1,438 death-row prisoners with currently enforceable death sentences.

California’s death row declined to 695 prisoners but remained more than double the size of death row in any other state. It was followed by Florida (333), Texas (198), and Alabama (170).  Nationwide, 42.4% of death-row prisoners were white, 41.2% were Black, 13.6% Latinx, 1.9% Asian, and 1.0% were Native American. Among states with at least 10 prisoners on death row, Texas (72.2%), Louisiana (72.3%), California (67.2%), Nebraska (66.7%), and Pennsylvania (61.5%) were the states with the highest percentage of individuals of color on death row. Two percent of all death-row prisoners are women.

February 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on "Recidivism of Federal Violent Offenders Released in 2010"

As I keep noting in recent years, it is has been great to see the US Sentencing Commission continuing to produce a lot of useful data reports even as its policy work is necessarily on hiatus due to a lack of confirmed Commissioners.  The latest example released today is this 116-page new report titled "Recidivism of Federal Violent Offenders Released in 2010."  This USSC webpage provides an overview of the report along with a bunch of "Key Findings," some of which are reprinted here:

Overview

This report is the third in a series continuing the Commission’s research of the recidivism of federal offenders.  It provides an overview of the recidivism of the 13,883 federal violent offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to a term of probation in 2010, combining data regularly collected by the Commission with data compiled from criminal history records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  This report provides an overview of recidivism for these offenders and information on key offender and offense characteristics related to recidivism.  This report also compares recidivism outcomes for federal violent offenders released in 2010 to non-violent offenders in the study group....

Key Findings

  • This study demonstrated substantially greater recidivism among violent federal offenders compared to non-violent federal offenders.
    • The recidivism rates of violent and non-violent offenders released in 2005 and 2010 remained unchanged despite two intervening major developments in the federal criminal justice system — the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker and increased use of evidence-based practices in federal supervision.
    • This finding is consistent with other Commission reports demonstrating higher recidivism among violent offenders...
  • Violent offenders recidivated at a higher rate than non-violent offenders.  Over an eight-year follow-up period, nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, compared to more than one-third (38.4%) of non-violent offenders.
  • Violent offenders recidivated more quickly than non-violent offenders.  The median time to rearrest was 16 months for violent offenders and 22 months for non-violent offenders.
  • Among offenders who were rearrested, violent offenders were rearrested for a violent offense at a higher rate than non-violent offenders, 38.9 percent compared to 22.0 percent.
    • Assault was the most common type of rearrest for both violent and non-violent offenders, but a larger proportion of violent offenders (24.9%) than non-violent offenders (15.4%) were rearrested for assault.
  • Age at release is strongly correlated with recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders. Rearrest rates decrease steadily with each age group for both groups of offenders.  However, violent offenders had higher rearrest rates than non-violent offenders in each age group.  Among offenders aged 60 and older, the oldest group of offenders studied, 25.1 percent of violent offenders were rearrested compared to 11.5 percent of non-violent offenders.
  • Criminal History Category (CHC) is strongly correlated with recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders. Rearrest rates increase steadily with each CHC for both groups of offenders. However, violent offenders had higher rearrest rates than non-violent offenders in every CHC. Analyzed separately, violent instant offenders (59.9%) and violent prior offenders (64.8%) were rearrested at a higher rate than non-violent offenders (38.4%)....
  • The current recidivism findings for violent and non-violent offenders released in 2010 replicate the Commission’s findings for offenders released in 2005. Nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, the same rate for violent offenders released in 2005 (63.8%). More than one-third (38.4%) of non-violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, a comparable rate to non-violent offenders released in 2005 (39.8%).

February 10, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

"Gender Favoritism Among Criminal Prosecutors"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Stephanie Holmes Didwania available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Prosecutors enjoy wide discretion in the decisions they make but are largely unstudied by quantitative empirical scholars. This paper explores gender bias in prosecutorial decision-making.  I find that male and female prosecutors exhibit small and statistically insignificant differences in their treatment of defendants overall but demonstrate relative leniency towards defendants of their own gender.  Such favoritism at charging translates into a sentencing gap of roughly five months of incarceration for defendants who are paired with an own-gender prosecutor versus an opposite-gender prosecutor, which represents a roughly eight percent reduction in sentence length at the mean.  The estimates do not appear to be driven by differences in case assignments for male and female prosecutors.

February 2, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (12)

Monday, December 20, 2021

Despite lacking a quorum, US Sentencing Commission still has an interesting and productive year

Regular readers are likely tired of hearing me complain about the US Sentencing Commission being crippled by a lack of Commissioners, but I hope some have noted my eagerness to compliment the "short-staffed" USSC for all the data and reports produced and promulgated through 2021.  This morning I received an email from the Commission providing a "year in review," and I was struck again at what the Commission has achieved this past year even absent a quorum.  I cannot find this email in a web form, so I will here just reproduce some highlights (with links from the USSC and to the USSC website):

1. Preliminary FY21 data reveal a continued decline in sentencings and a historic shift in the makeup of the federal drug caseload. Learn more ...
2. With the advent of COVID-19, tens of thousands of offenders sought compassionate release. The Commission tracked and reported this data throughout 2021. Learn more

In early 2022, look for a comprehensive new research report on compassionate release providing even greater analysis regarding the courts’ reasoning for granting or denying motions for compassionate release....

6. The Commission expanded its catalog of interactive tools designed for those working in the federal criminal justice system.
IDA Expansion: Interactive Data Analyzer feedback has been very positive and users continue to #AskIDA for even more data. The Commission has listened to your feedback. IDA is now updated with enhanced filtering capabilities—including a brand new data filter for career offenders. Learn more

JSIN Development: The Judiciary Sentencing INformation (JSIN) platform is an online sentencing data resource specifically developed with the needs of judges in mind. The platform provides quick and easy online access to average prison length and other sentencing data for similarly-situated defendants. Learn more

December 20, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Vera Institute updates its Incarceration Trends website

As discussed in this press release, titled "Vera Institute of Justice Unveils Updated Incarceration Trends Website," the Vera Institute has updated this cool website. Here are the basics as described in the press release:

The Vera Institute of Justice [has] a new, updated version of its Incarceration Trends website, which now includes analysis of more than five decades of local jail and state prison data at the national, state, and county levels.  The updated site brings many of the data points current to spring 2021 and represents the most comprehensive look to date at the growth of mass incarceration across states, counties, and urban-to-rural geographies....

The nation’s biggest cities once had the highest rates of incarceration, but over the past several decades, jail incarceration and state prison admissions have declined in major metro areas as they rose precipitously in smaller cities and rural communities.  Today in the United States, approximately two out of three people in local jails have not been convicted of a crime — many are being detained in civil matters, such as people incarcerated pretrial for immigration cases or those who can’t pay child support or fines and fees.  The updated analysis presented in Incarceration Trends highlights that the disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of Black people and other people of color is also most pronounced in rural counties, as is the rise of women’s incarceration.

The newly visualized data also features the rebound in jail incarceration after an unprecedented 14 percent drop in incarceration in the first half of 2020 (bringing the total incarcerated population from 2.1 million to 1.8 million people) in response to the spread of COVID-19.  As of spring 2021, state prison decarceration had stalled and jail populations continued to trend upward.

Incarceration Trends offers insight on national-, state-, and county-level pages, enabling users to compare county-level data to state and national trends.  The website includes:

  • analysis of the race, ethnicity, and gender of people in the nation’s jails and prisons;

  • visualizations of state incarceration trends across major metros, smaller cities, suburbs, and rural communities;

  • rankings of all of the counties in a given state by the incarceration rate and growth of incarceration;

  • a visualization of each county’s jail population, representing the most recently available data about what proportion is held pretrial, sentenced, and held on behalf of other authorities, including state departments of corrections and federal agencies;

  • the ability to toggle between the average number of people held in a jail on any day and the rate of incarceration, accounting for resident population changes; and

  • data on regional jail systems that serve multiple counties.

The new Incarceration Trends website shows both the significant increase in jail incarceration across the urban to rural spectrum since 1970 and the more recent divergence in incarceration trends, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, the rate at which people are incarcerated in local jails declined 26 percent between late 2019 and mid-2020. However, jail incarceration had rebounded sharply by spring 2021.

December 19, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

New BJS reports on "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020" and "Profile of Prison Inmates, 2016"

Earlier this week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its latest detailed accounting of US prison populations (discussed here), and today brought two more notable data reports from BJS.  Here is a brief summary (with links) via the email I received this morning from the office of Justice Programs:

The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics today released Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020.  The report is the 29th in a series that began in 1981. It includes characteristics of the population such as sex, race or ethnicity and most serious offense of adult U.S. residents under correctional supervision in the community. The report details how people move onto and off community supervision, such as completing their term of supervision, being incarcerated, absconding or other unsatisfactory outcomes while in the community.  Findings are based on data from BJS’s 2020 Annual Probation Survey and Annual Parole Survey.

BJS also released Profile of Prison Inmates, 2016.  This report describes the characteristics of state and federal prisoners in 2016, including demographics, education and marital status.  Findings are based on data from BJS’s 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI), which is conducted periodically and consists of personal interviews with prisoners.  For the first time, the 2016 SPI measured sexual orientation and gender identity, and those estimates are included in this report.  Statistics on prisoners’ offenses, time served, prior criminal history and any housing status prior to imprisonment, including homelessness, are also presented.  The report concludes with a summary of the family background of prisoners while they were growing up and any family members who have ever been incarcerated.

I am hoping in the weeks ahead to find some time to really mine some interesting factoids from all this notable new BJS data. For now I will be content to flag just a few "highlights" from the start of these two new document:

December 16, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

DPIC releases year-end report emphasizing "continuing decline of death penalty" in 2021

The Death Penalty Information Center this morning released its annual report here under the heading "The Death Penalty in 2021: Year End Report; Virginia’s Historic Abolition Highlights Continuing Decline of Death Penalty." Here is the starts of the report's introduction, with lots of data and details following thereafter:

The death penalty in 2021 was defined by two competing forces: the continuing long-term erosion of capital punishment across most of the country, and extreme conduct by a dwindling number of outlier jurisdictions to continue to pursue death sentences and executions.

Virginia’s path to abolition of the death penalty was emblematic of capital punishment’s receding reach in the United States.  A combination of changing state demographics, eroding public support, high-quality defense representation, and the election of reform prosecutors in many key counties produced a decade with no new death sentences in the Commonwealth.  As the state grappled with its history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, and the 70th anniversary of seven wrongful executions, the governor and legislative leaders came to see the end of the death penalty as a crucial step towards racial justice.  On March 24, Virginia became the first southern state to repeal capital punishment, and expanded the death-penalty-free zone on the U.S. Atlantic coast from the Canadian border of Maine to the northern border of the Carolinas.

In the West, where an execution-free zone spans the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico, the Oregon Supreme Court began removing prisoners from the state’s death row based on a 2019 law that redefined the crimes that constitute capital murder.  Nationwide, mounting distrust of the death-penalty system was reflected in public opinion polling that measured support for capital punishment at near half-century lows.  With Virginia’s abolition, a majority of states have now abolished the death penalty (23) or have a formal moratorium on its use (3).  An additional ten states have not carried out an execution in at least ten years.

2021 saw historic lows in executions and near historic lows in new death sentences.  As this report goes to press, eighteen people were sentenced to death, tying 2020’s number for the fewest in the modern era of the death penalty, dating back to the Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia that struck down all existing U.S. death-penalty statutes in 1972.  The eleven executions carried out during the year were the fewest since 1988.  The numbers were unquestionably affected by the pandemic but marked the seventh consecutive year of fewer than 50 death sentences and 30 executions.  Both measures pointed to a death penalty that was geographically isolated, with just three states — Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas — accounting for a majority of both death sentences and executions.

December 16, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

New BJS report documents big decrease in prison admissions drove 15% imprisonment rate decline in 2020

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released its latest detailed accounting of US prison populations in this big report titled "Prisoners in 2020 – Statistical Tables."  The BJS data capture realities at yearend 2020, and thus reflects lots (but not all) COVID-era developments. Here is part of the start of the document, along with some of its "highlights":

In 2020, the number of persons held in state or federal prisons in the United States declined 15%, from 1,430,200 at yearend 2019 to 1,215,800 at yearend 2020. Only Alaska showed an increase (2%) in its prison population, while other jurisdictions showed declines of 7% to 31%.  The number of persons sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison decreased from 1,379,800 in 2019 to 1,182,200 in 2020. Te combined state and federal imprisonment rate for 2020 (358 per 100,000 U.S. residents) represented a decrease of 15% from 2019 (419 per 100,000 U.S. residents) and a decrease of 28% from 2010 (500 per 100,000 U.S. residents).

The COVID-19 pandemic was largely responsible for the decline in prisoners under state and federal correctional authority.  Courts significantly altered operations for part or all of 2020, leading to delays in trials and/or sentencing of persons, and this was refected in the 40% decrease in admissions to state and federal prison from 2019.  While the number of releases also declined during 2020, releases occurred at a slower rate (10%) than the decrease in admissions. Although deaths represented 1% of the total releases from prison in 2020, the number prisoners that died under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities in 2020 (6,100 prisoners) increased 46% from 2019 (4,200).

From 2019 to 2020, the decline in the number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in prison (down 22%) outpaced the decrease in sentenced male prisoners (down 14%).  The imprisonment rates for U.S. residents in all racial or ethnic categories decreased by 12% to 16% from 2019 to 2020 and by at least 25% from 2010 to 2020.  The imprisonment rate for black U.S. residents decreased 37%, from 1,489 per 100,000 in 2010 to 938 per 100,000 in 2020.

Highlights

  • At yearend 2020, the number of prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction had decreased by 214,300 (down 15%) from 2019 and by 399,700 (down 25%) from 2009, the year the number of prisoners in the United States peaked.
  • Nine states showed decreases in the number of persons in prison of at least 20% from 2019 to 2020.
  • The prison populations of California, Texas, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons each declined by more than 22,500 from 2019 to 2020, accounting for 33% of the total prison population decrease.
  • In 2020, the imprisonment rate was 358 per 100,000 U.S. residents, the lowest since 1992.
  • From 2010 to 2020, the sentenced imprisonment rate for U.S. residents fell 37% among blacks; 32% among Hispanics; 32% among Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacifc Islanders; 26% among whites; and 25% among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
  • The number of admissions to federal prison (down 19,000) and to state prison (down 211,800) both declined by 40% from 2019 to 2020.
  • Releases from federal and state prisons decreased during 2020 (down 58,400 or almost 10% from 2019), but at a lower rate than the decrease in admissions.

I find it fascinating and telling that our nation actually did not release more people from prison during an historic pandemic, but it did have a harder time continuing to send a massive number of new people to prison. I am thus tempted to joke that, like lots of other segments of our society, America's mass incarceration system has also had "supply chain" issues that has impacted its usual functioning. Whether these patterns have continued into 2021 and beyond as this pandemic lingers on will be worth watching closely.

December 15, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 10, 2021

"Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Capital Punishment, 2020 – Statistical Tables"

Today the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics has released this new report with data on the administration of capital punishment in the United States through the end of 2020. (As I have noted before, though BJS provides great data on criminal justice administration, in the capital punishment arena the Death Penalty Information Center tends to have more up-to-date and more detailed data on capital punishment.)

This new BJS report provides notable and clear statistical snapshots about the death penalty in the US, and the document starts with this introduction and these "highlights" on the first two pages of a 26-page document:

At yearend 2020, a total of 28 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) held 2,469 prisoners under sentence of death, which was 94 (4%) fewer than at yearend 2019.  During 2020, the number of prisoners under sentence of death declined for the twentieth consecutive year.  California (28%), Florida (14%), and Texas (8%) held half of the prisoners under sentence of death in the United States on December 31, 2020.  The BOP held 51 prisoners under sentence of death at yearend.

Five states and the BOP executed a total of 17 prisoners in 2020.  The BOP executed 10 prisoners, which accounted for 59% of the executions carried out in 2020.

This report presents statistics on persons who were under sentence of death in 2020, state and federal death penalty laws in 2020, and historical trends in executions.  At yearend 2020, a total of 31 states and the federal government authorized the death penalty.

  • Colorado repealed the death penalty provision of its first-degree murder statute in July 2020, and the governor commuted the death sentences of the three prisoners under previously imposed sentences of death to life without the possibility of parole. ƒ
  • Seven states received a total of 14 prisoners under sentence of death in 2020, the smallest annual number reported since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated capital punishment statutes in several states in 1972 (see Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)).
  • ƒNineteen states removed a total of 91 prisoners from under sentence of death by means other than execution in 2020.
  • ƒDuring 2020, 17 states and the BOP reported a decrease in the number of prisoners held under sentence of death, 16 states reported no change, and no states reported an increase in the number of prisoners held under sentence of death.
  • ƒThe largest declines in the number of prisoners under sentence of death in 2020 occurred in California (down 24 prisoners) and Pennsylvania (down 14).
  • ƒThe majority (98%) of prisoners under sentence of death were male.
  • ƒAt yearend 2020, about 56% of prisoners under sentence of death were white and 41% were black.
  • Among prisoners under sentence of death at yearend 2020 with a known ethnicity, 15% were Hispanic. ƒ
  • Prisoners under sentence of death on December 31, 2020 had been on death row for an average of 19.4 years.
  • ƒPrisoners executed during 2020 had been on death row for an average of 18.9 years.

December 10, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (2)