Tuesday, June 18, 2024

US Sentencing Commission releases latest "compassionate release" data through March 2024

The US Sentencing Commission today updates some of its data on sentence reduction motions on this webpage, particularly though this new Compassionate Release Data Report running through the second quarter of USSC Fiscal Year 2024 (meaning through the end of March 2024).   Notably, the latest data run includes information for nearly six months after the Commission's new "sentence reduction" guideline became law, and nearly a year after the Commission submitted this guideline to Congress.

As I have noted before, the long-term data going back to the height of the COVID pandemic period reveals, unsurprisingly, that we now see many fewer sentence reduction motions filed or granted than in years past.  Though there are month-to-month variations, it would be roughly accurate to say recent months see, on average, a few dozen compassionate release motions granted and a couple hundred  motions denied nationwide.  And the number of motions resolved and the grant rates from various districts remain quite different within and among circuits.

There are all sorts of other interesting data points in this new report relating to both the crimes and backgrounds of defendants bringing these motions and getting sentence reductions.  Especially because there are so many elements to sentence reduction motions and so much discretion in the hands of district judges when considering these motions, I continue to find these data stories fascinating, and I am hopeful researchers (and the USSC) will keep exploring how this part of the First Step Act continue to function.

June 18, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2024

US Sentencing Commission releases big report on "Methamphetamine Trafficking Offenses in the Federal Criminal Justice System"

Via email, I received news of this big new report from the US Sentencing Commission titled "Methamphetamine Trafficking Offenses in the Federal Criminal Justice System."  This 66-page report provides lots of important facts and figure about the drug offense that is now the basis for the most and most severe federal drug sentences in recent years.  This USSC webpage has an overview and key findings from the report and this USSC news release provide a helpful summary:

new U.S. Sentencing Commission study found substantial increases in both the prevalence of federal methamphetamine trafficking sentences, and the purity levels of methamphetamine trafficked in the United States.

Over the past 20 years, the number of individuals sentenced federally for methamphetamine trafficking has risen by 168 percent, with methamphetamine now accounting for nearly half (49%) of all federal drug trafficking cases.

The study also revealed that the methamphetamine tested in fiscal year 2022 was on average over 90% pure with a median purity of 98%.  Furthermore, the methamphetamine tested was uniformly highly pure regardless of whether it was sentenced as methamphetamine mixture (91% pure on average), methamphetamine actual (93%) or Ice (98%).  By comparison, in 2000, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported that methamphetamine purity ranged from 10% to 80% depending on location.

Methamphetamine is one of only five controlled substances where purity affects federal statutory and guideline penalties, resulting in higher penalties when purity levels are confirmed by laboratory testing.  By federal statute, it takes ten times as much mixture compared to actual methamphetamine to trigger mandatory minimum penalties.

Because methamphetamine penalties are based in part on purity, penalty exposure and sentencing outcomes are impacted by confirmed purity levels.  The Commission’s study found that testing practices varied across the nation and that testing rates across judicial circuits were inconsistent — ranging from under 60% to over 80% of the time.  Notably, methamphetamine seized in southwest border districts was more likely to undergo laboratory testing (85%) than in non-border districts (70%).

Methamphetamine trafficking sentences averaged 91 months in fiscal year 2022, the longest among the major federal drug trafficking offenses, including fentanyl (65 months) and heroin (66 months). In addition, methamphetamine trafficking offenses carried mandatory minimum penalties more often (74%) than all other drug trafficking offenses (57%).

June 13, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Notable Washington Post "Abused by the badge" investigation includes notable data on sentencing outcomes

The Washington Post today released a series of remarkable pieces as part of an investigative series it calls "Abused by the badge."  The subheadline of this main piece summarizes the main themes: "A Washington Post investigation found hundreds of law enforcement officers in the United States have sexually exploited kids. Many avoid prison time."  Here are additional links to the newest pieces in the series:

This Reason piece about the Post's findings helpfully summarizes some of the key sentencing stories:

The investigation revealed a staggering lack of accountability for officers who sexually abuse minors — finding not only that convicted officers often received paltry sentences, but that police departments sometimes rehired officers with child sex abuse convictions.

The Post's analysis looked at thousands of court filings, as well as The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, the county's most comprehensive database of police arrests.  The authors found that, between 2005 and 2022, around 17,700 police officers were charged with crimes — and 1 in 10 of those were charged with a crime involving the sexual abuse of minors.

The crimes officers were charged with varied, though most charges were for a few specific offenses. According to the Post's analysis, 39 percent of officers charged with child sexual abuse crimes were charged with rape.  Twenty percent were charged with crimes related to child sexual abuse material (another term for child pornography) and 19 percent were charged with forcible fondling.

Eighty-three percent of charged officers were convicted.  However, only 61 percent of convicted officers received prison time.  Fifteen percent received local jail sentences, and a striking 24 percent received sentences as light as probation, fines, and community service.  But even those imprisoned received relatively light sentences. Half were sentenced to less than five years in jail.

Why did so many officers seem to get off easy for heinous sex crimes?  According to the Post, it comes down to how prosecutors and judges treat police officers. "Prosecutors have broad discretion in the types of charges they bring, the plea bargains they offer and the cases they are willing to take to trial," the Post's analysis reads. "Judges play a critical role at sentencing hearings in determining what punishment officers deserve."

Because there is no national data about sentencing outcomes in cases involving other types of persons sexually abusing minors, it is impossible to compare the outcomes detailed by the Post for officers to other sets of offenders.  But the Post's suggestion that these officer offenders are being treated relatively leniently seems sound.  And many might reasonably argue that secual abuse of a minor committed my an officer ought to lead to even harsher punishment than would be given to other offenders, especially if the officer used his position to facilitate the crime.

June 12, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (24)

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

BJS releases small accounting with "Preliminary Data Release - Jails (2023)"

THe Bureau of Justice Statistics sent me a couple emails today making sure I saw it published online here its latest data on jail populations in the US.  Here is the text that starts the report:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides key jail statistics prior to release of the annual jails report.  The statistics below include the number of persons held in local jails, by inmate demographics and conviction status; the number of admissions to jail; and jail incarceration rates, from 2013 to 2023.

Statistics from 2023, the latest data year, are preliminary and may be updated once BJS publishes the final data in Jail Inmates in 2023 – Statistical Tables, which is scheduled for release in late 2024.  

Key findings

  • At midyear 2023, local jails held 664,200 persons in custody, similar to the year before (663,100).
  • Jails reported 7.6 million admissions from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.  While this represents a 4% increase over the 7.3 million admissions the year before, annual admissions were 35% lower than 10 years ago (11.7 million).
  • Local jails held 95,100 females at midyear 2023, accounting for 14% of the confined population.
  • At midyear 2023, 70% of the jail population (467,600) was unconvicted and awaiting court action on a current charge or being held in jail for other reasons.  The remaining 30% (196,600) was convicted and either serving a sentence or awaiting sentencing on a conviction.

June 11, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 08, 2024

US Sentencing Commission starts releasing latest "Quick Facts" publications

I noticed that the US Sentencing Commission has started releasing a new set of its terrific "Quick Facts" publications with updates drawing on the USSC's full fiscal year 2023 data.  Long-time readers have long heard me praise the USSC for producing these convenient and informative short data documents, which are designed to "give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format." Here are the newesr postings by the USSC on the "Quick Facts" page:

Offender Groups

Drugs

There are any number of interesting factual nuggets in these documents that are fascinating, but I continue to be struck by how much of the federal caseload (and federal prison population) is consumed by drug cases and especially methamphetamine and various opioid. Crack cocaine and marijuana cases, which have long garnered so much attention, are now just a tiny piece of an otherwise still large federal drug war reality.

June 8, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 30, 2024

BJS releases two big new (and dated) reports on 2022 correctional populations and probation/parole populations

Via email, I learned that the Justcie Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics today released these two big new data reports: "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2022 – Statistical Tables" and "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2022." Here is how BJS describes these reports:

[The correctional populations] 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 from 2012 to 2022. It also includes tables on sex and race or ethnicity of persons supervised by correctional systems. BJS has published statistics on correctional populations since 1985....

[The probation and parole] report provides data on adult U.S. residents under correctional supervision in the community. It includes characteristics of this population, such as sex, race or ethnicity, and most serious offense. 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. It is the 31st in a series that began in 1981.

Though it is alwaus a bit disappointing that these great data reports are already nearly 18 months behind present day realities, the BJS always deserves thanks for the great, rigorous job it does collecting and publishing these complicated data.

May 30, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 24, 2024

"Regressive White-Collar Crime"

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

Fraud is one of the most prosecuted crimes in the United States, yet scholarly and journalistic discourse about fraud and other financial crimes tends to focus on the absence of so-called “white-collar” prosecutions against wealthy executives.  This Article complicates that familiar narrative. It contains the first nationwide account of how the United States actually prosecutes financial crime.  It shows — contrary to dominant academic and public discourse — that the government prosecutes an enormous number of people for financial crimes and that these prosecutions disproportionately involve the least advantaged U.S. residents accused of low-level offenses.  This empirical account directly contradicts the aspiration advanced by the FBI and Department of Justice that federal prosecution ought to be reserved for only the most egregious and sophisticated financial crimes.  This Articles argues, in other words, that the term “white-collar crime” is a misnomer.

To build this empirical foundation, the Article uses comprehensive data of the roughly two million federal criminal cases prosecuted over the last three decades matched to county-level population data from the U.S. Census.  It demonstrates the history, geography, and inequality that characterize federal financial crime cases, which include myriad crimes such as identity theft, mail and wire fraud, public benefits fraud, and tax fraud, to name just a few.  It shows that financial crime defendants are disproportionately low-income and Black, and that this overrepresentation is not only a nationwide pattern, but also a pattern in nearly every federal district in the United States.  What’s more, the financial crimes prosecuted against these overrepresented defendants are on average the least serious.  This Article ends by exploring how formal law and policy, structural incentives, and individual biases could easily create a prosecutorial regime for financial crime that reinforces inequality based on race, gender, and wealth.

May 24, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Notable (and notably unclear) accounting of possible impact of retroactive application of new guideline amendments

The US Sentencing Commission has sent to Congress a handful of new guideline amendments that reduce the guideline range for some individuals (details here).  That means the USSC is statutorily required to decide whether these amendments should be applied retroactively to persons currently incarcerated.  Before a vote on retroactivity, the USSC staff typically prepares a retroactivity impact analysis to aid the USSC's deliberation over retroactivity, and this past Friday the USSC made public this 21-page document titled "Analysis of the Impact of Certain 2024 Guideline Amendments if Made Retroactive" (hereinafter "retroactivity memo").

The highest-profile amendment to be considered for retroactivity is on acquitted conduct, which redefines relevant conduct to exclude conduct for which the defendant was criminally charged and acquitted in federal court.  The retroactivity memo notes that the USSC staff estimated "that 1,971 persons currently incarcerated in the BOP were acquitted of one or more of the charges against them."  (Notably, that's not much more than 1% of the current federal prison population.)  But, as the retroactivity memo further explains, USSC research staff were "unable to determine whether and to what extent the courts may have relied upon any of the offense conduct related to the charge or charges for which the individual was acquitted in determining the guideline range; therefore, staff cannot estimate what portion of approximately 1,971 persons might benefit from retroactive application of the amendment."

I suspect only a limited percentage of persons who were acquitted of some charge could show that their guideline ranges were enhanced based on acquitted conduct.  But this reality, in my view, should make the Commission all that much more willing to have its new acquitted conduct guideline applied retroactively.  Though acquitted conduct guideline enhancements are relatively rare, those now serving prison time based on acquitted conduct ought to have a chance to argue for a reduced sentence.

Interesting, the retroactivity memo also details at length that all the other guideline amendments that might be made retroactive this year also have all sorts of data uncertainty regarding the reach of retroactivity.  Here is a cursory accounting drawn from the retroactivity memo: (a) one amendment restricting a 4-level enhancement applicable when a firearm's serial number of a firearm has been “altered or obliterated” could apply to as many as 1,452 current federal prisoners, but the amendment functions so that USSC "staff cannot determine in which of the 1,452 cases" might be impacted by the amendment"; (b) another amendment concerning the grouping rules for firearm offenses could impact "102 cases that met the criteria" of the new guideline, but the fact-specific nature of the grouping rules [meant] staff cannot determine with precision the cases in which the grouping rules might have been applied in a manner inconsistent with the amendment"; (c) another amendment to restrict how the drug guidelines should be calculated could impact "538 of those persons [who] were sentenced using a Base Offense Level" a certain way, but "staff cannot determine in which of the 538 cases the court may have applied a BOL" this way.

Long story short, it is clear that not very many current federal prisoners could possibly be impacted by making new guidelines retroactive (likely less than 2% of the current BOP population), but it is actually quite unclear if any significant number of current prisoners would benefit.  Whether and how these small numbers and the data uncertainty might impact the Commission's retroactivity decision remains to be seen.

May 19, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

New US Sentencing Commission data on retroactive application of criminal history amendments

Last year, US Sentencing Commission voted for (delayed) retroactive application of its Guideline amendments relating to criminal history.  There were two major parts to these amendment that reduced the sentencing range for certain defendants with "status" points (Part A) and for other defendants who would now be deemed "zero-point" offenders (Part B).   And last week, the Commission release some new data on how retroactivity is playing out in district courts.  Here are links to the USSC's data reports:

NEW Retroactivity Data on Part A

NEW Retroactivity Data on Part B

There are lots of interesting little stories in these data runs, but I figured I might  here highlight the top-line numbers. Specifically, for the Part A "status point" amendment, a total of 2,988 defendants have received sentence reductions averaging 10 months.  For the Part B "zero point" amendment, a total of 2,143 defendants have receive sentence reductions averaging 13 months.

Adding this up, we get at total of 57,738 months of reduced federal prison time (which is a little over 4800 years of imprisonment for those not great at dividing by 12).  Given that the average annual cost of federal incarceration is over $42,000, we might reasonably calculate a savings of over $200 million to US taxpayers resulting from the Commission's decision to make its new criminal history guidelines retoractive.

I presume future retroactivity data runs will report in some more defendants getting reductions under the new guidelines, and I also expect other data will also show a significant number of newly sentenced defendants also benefiting from these new criminal history guidelines.  And especially since there were built on the USSC's copious revidivism data, I am hopeful that there reduction do not come at any real public safety costs. 

May 12, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

US Sentencing Commission's new compassionate release data suggest (small) uptick in sentence reduction grants to close 2023

The US Sentencing Commission yesterday released this new compassionate release data report, which includes data on "the compassionate release motions filed with the courts and decided during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024."  (For the USSC, the first quarter of FY 2024 is actually the last three months of 2023.)   I noticed some interesting data points in this report comparing the sentence reduction grants and grant rates of the last three months of 2023 to prior months in 2023 and even earlier years.

Specifically, the months of October and December 2023 saw the highest grant rates for these motions (22.3% and 23% respectively) than for any month since the heart of the COVID pandemic in summer 2020.  Indeed, as Table 1 in the new USSC data shows, the only other month with a greater than 20% grant rate for these motions since August 2020 was in December 2022.  In addition, the total number of sentence reduction grants in Q1 of FY 2024 was also up as compared to recent prior quarters: there were 119 total grants in Q1 of 2024 compared to 81 in Q4 and 111 in Q3 and 114 in Q2 of FY 2023.

What explains the uptick in grants of compassionate release motions in Q1 of FY 2024?  I have two working hypotheses, one general and one 2023 specific: (1) maybe judges are slightly more likely in general to grant these sentence reductions toward the end of the year during the holiday season; and/or (2) maybe judges were influenced a bit by the new US Sentencing Commission policy statement governing compassionate release, § 1B1.13, which became formally effective on November 1, 2023.

Also, as I have noted before in this space, some other notable data points here come from the variations in grant rates from various circuits and districts.  Here is one example in this latest data: in the Second Circuit in this quarter, nine of 12 total resolved sentence reduction motions were granted; in the Third Circuitthis quarter only one of 23 motions were granted.

Critically, my eyeball assessment of these latest data (which reflect small numbers and lots of potential confounding factors) may just be an effort to encourage more systematic analysis of how federal district judges are continuing to use their sentence reduction authority.  Especially with COVID-based reasons likely no longer driving a large number of requests or grants for compassionate release, I hope we start to learn more about what facts and factors are providing most consequential in this form of federal judicial (re)sentencing decision-making.

April 23, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

"A Randomization-based Analysis of the Effects of Electoral Pressure on Judges' Sentencing Decisions"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Benjamin Lu and available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Until recently, studies have consistently found that judges sentence more harshly under electoral pressure.  We add to growing evidence complicating that account.  We analyze an open dataset of felony cases prosecuted in Cook County, the second-most populous county in the United States, between 2011 and 2018 and an original dataset of county judges’ electoral histories.  Unlike previous work in this area, we leverage the fact that some cases in the county are randomly assigned to judges to conduct explicitly causal analyses without conditional ignorability or functional form assumptions. We do not find strong evidence that judges in the county sentence more harshly in response to electoral pressure.

April 20, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 15, 2024

Prison Policy Initiative releases new briefing with new data and visuals on modern jail growth

Emily Widra of the Prison Policy Initiative has authored tbis new briefing titled "New data and visualizations spotlight states’ reliance on excessive jailing."  The subtitle provides context: "We've updated the data tables and graphics from our 2017 report to show just how little has changed in our nation's overuse of jails: too many people are locked up in jails, most detained pretrial and many of them are not even under local jurisdiction."   Here is how the report starts (with links from the original, but footnotes omitted):

One out of every three people behind bars is being held in a local jail, yet jails get almost none of the attention that prisons do. In 2017, we published an in-depth analysis of local jail populations in each state: Era of Mass Expansion: Why State Officials Should Fight Jail Growth. We paid particular attention to the various drivers of jail incarceration — including pretrial practices and holding people in local jails for state and federal authorities — and we explained how jails impact our entire criminal legal system and millions of lives every year. In the years since that publication, many states have passed reforms aimed at reducing jail populations, but we still see the same trends playing out: too many people are confined in local jails, and the reasons for their confinement do not justify the overwhelming costs of our nation’s reliance on excessive jailing.

People cycle through local jails more than 7 million times each year and they are generally held there for brief, but life-altering, periods of time. Most are released in a few hours or days after their arrest, but others are held for months or years, often because they are too poor to make bail. Fewer than one-third of the 663,100 people in jails on a given day have been convicted and are likely serving short sentences of less than a year, most often for misdemeanors.  Jail policy is therefore in large part about how people who are legally innocent are treated, and how policymakers think our criminal legal system should respond to low-level offenses.

April 15, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"State Sentencing Reforms Had Little Impact on Racial Disparities in Imprisonment, Analysis Finds"

The title of this post is the the title of this new press release from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) discussing the latest findings of research it has been conducting looking at incarceration disparities.  Here is part of the press release, with lnks from the original providing access to the underlying research:

The Black-White disparity in imprisonment has narrowed substantially over the past 20 years but very little of the progress can be attributed to state sentencing reforms, according to a series of reports released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Following on previous analyses that documented a 40% drop in the Black-White imprisonment disparity between 2000 and 2020, researchers at CCJ, Georgia State University, and the Crime and Justice Institute examined more than 700 statutes adopted in 12 states between 2010 and 2020, seeking to understand how sentencing reforms might have influenced the reduction.  Laws included for study related to violent, property, and drug crimes, as well as parole release and technical violation practices.  The study states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) varied by region, demographic composition, sentencing structure, and the political party in power.

With minor exceptions, the analysis found that the sentencing reforms had negligible impacts on reducing racial disparities, and instead largely codified changes to enforcement, policing, charging, and sentencing practices that had occurred before the laws were enacted. In addition, many sentencing law changes that took effect during the study period addressed fairly infrequent crimes and therefore had a minimal effect on disparity. 

The findings suggest that factors beyond sentencing laws were mostly responsible for the Black-White imprisonment disparity declining from 8.2-to-1 in 2000 to 4.9-to-1 in 2020. Though the study did not statistically assess alternative explanations, the authors offered several other possible reasons for the shrinking disparity, including changes in policing practices, drug use (from cocaine to opioids), how drugs are sold (from open-air markets to the use of GPS-equipped smartphones), and the types of crimes people commit (from burglary to cybercrime, for example)....

The 12-state analysis is part of a sweeping package on racial disparities released by CCJ’s Pushing Toward Parity project. It includes an in-depth look at the legislative changes in each of the 12 study states as well as two reports examining disparities in imprisonment through other lenses.

One analysis examined state imprisonment disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White people.  It found that disparity in imprisonment rates declined during the first two decades of the century, but that the precise size of the drop is unclear because of a conflict between data sources. In 2020, data collected from state corrections departments showed a Hispanic-White disparity ratio of 1.5-to-1; data from a federal prison survey, however, produced a ratio that was 2.7-to-1, or 80% larger. 

The gap in disparity ratios derived from each source has increased over time.  In 2000, the two disparity ratios were roughly equivalent, but by 2020 the federal data disparity ratio was 80% larger.  The measurement gap stems from how race and ethnicity are recorded and classified in each source.  The choice of measurement method makes a large difference in the projected achievement of parity: if current trends continue, the Hispanic-White disparity measure drawn from state data would reach parity by about 2026, while the measure from federal data would reach parity about 30 years later.

Another analysis focused on disparities in female prison populations. It found that state imprisonment disparity between Black and White women fell by 71% between 2000 and 2020, decreasing from 6.3-to-1 to 1.8-to-1 and exceeding the drop for men.  The decline was driven by a 56% decline in the imprisonment rate for Black women and a 57% increase for White women.  Hispanic-White female imprisonment rate disparity also fell (by 56%) over the two-decade period, data from state corrections departments showed; it has been at or below parity since 2010 and reached 0.7-to-1 in 2020, meaning that White women were more likely to be imprisoned than Hispanic women.

Female imprisonment disparity fell across violent, property, and drug offense categories, with the largest drop recorded for drug crimes.  From 2000 to 2020, Black-White drug offense imprisonment disparity among women dropped from 8 to 0.6, reaching parity in 2016.  Hispanic-White drug offense imprisonment disparity fell from 2.4 in 2000 to 0.5 in 2020. Changes in the demographic composition of prison admissions drove the trends.  From 2000 to 2019, admissions decreased 47% for Black females, increased 15% for Hispanic females, and rose 138% for White females. 

April 11, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (26)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lots of notable new items on the US Sentencing Commission's website including geographic FY 2023 sentencing data

Though we are still a week away from hearing from the US Sentencing Commission about possible new amendments to the US Sentencing Guidelines, I noted that the Commission has updated its website with a bunch of new items that seemed worth flagging.  These are drawn from the new items scroll from the USSC website homepage:

TRAINING SESSIONS ARCHIVE (April 8, 2024)

You can now explore an archive of the Commission's recorded training sessions. Use the filters within the archive to find the training session that meets your specific needs. Learn More

PROBLEM-SOLVING COURTS PODCAST MINISERIES (April 9, 2024)

In this podcast miniseries, Commission staff chat with the federal judges who lead the problem-solving court programs available around the country. Parts One through Seven are out now!  Listen Here

FY23 GEOGRAPHIC SENTENCING DATA (April 8, 2024)

These data reports compare fiscal year 2023 sentencing statistics for each federal circuit, district, and state to the nation as a whole. Learn More

BASICS OF CRIMINAL HISTORY (April 8, 2024)

This updated eLearning module uses real-world scenarios to illustrate the basics of the criminal history rules as amended in 2023. Learn More

I find all the USSC's materials and content interesting, but my data nerdiness really gets hit by the data reports page with fiscal year 2023 sentencing statistics for each federal circuit, district, and state.  That page includes a US map that allows you to see that the border district of Maine had only 116 federal sentencings in FY 2023, whereas the border district of the Western District of Texas had 7,539 federal sentencings in FY 2023.  And that the District Utah had more federal sentencings in FY 2023 sentencings (761) than did New Jersey (723), even though New Jersey has nearly three times the overall population as Utah.  

April 10, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 08, 2024

Intriguing new accounting of recent crime trends and related data

Though I cannot find any detailed information about the Coalition for Law, Order and Safety, this Fox News article alerted me to this new report from the group titled "Assessing America’s Crime Crisis: Trends, Causes, And Consequences."  The report gathers crime and criminal justice in some distinct ways, and here is the report's introduction:

American communities are less safe than they were a decade ago.  That fact is undeniable.  Similarly, the evidence is clear that over the last decade, serious — especially violent — crime rose in 2015 and 2016, then briefly fell before rising again since 2020.  Early indications suggest that the steep rise in homicides in 2020-2021 has slowed, if not reversed, but not returned to levels recorded five or ten years ago.

In other words, to say crime is down is like descending from a tall peak and standing on a high bluff, saying you are closer to the ground — a true but misleading statement. The truth is that violent crime is substantially elevated in major cities (and nationally) compared to pre-2020 levels.

For other crimes, the data is often inconsistent, unreliable, or unavailable making trends difficult — but not impossible  — to discern.  The evidence we do have suggests some serious offenses (i.e., carjacking and auto theft) have continued to rise dramatically.  Other aggregate data suggests some offenses have continued their decades-long decline.

Meanwhile, Americans support for greater law enforcement and stiffer criminal penalties has increased as polls show that the public believes crime has risen, and they feel less safe.

This paper seeks to answer two important questions about public safety in America: 

  • What do we know about recent crime trends and how; and
  • What is contributing to this trend and why?

To answer those questions, this study will first examine the available data on crime over the past decade, analyze its value and limitations, and assess its meaning for public safety policymakers. Second, the study will analyze what policies and phenomena are driving these crime trends.

April 8, 2024 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Encouraging homicide data as the first quarter of 2024 comes to a close

A few days ago, I received an alert from my local paper about this article reporting that "data from the Columbus Division of Police showed that the city is experiencing some of the lowest levels of violence in a decade."  According to this press piece, the biggest city in Ohio has recorded only 18 murders in this calendar year, compared to 41 at this time last year.  The article also flagged that a number of other cities have also seen significant homicide declines.  

Conveniently and encouragingly, Jeff Asher posted yesterday this new substack entry detailing that Columbus, Ohio is not alone in experiencing a significant homicide decline to start 2024.  Folks should read his full posting for lots more context and details, but here are some highlights:

[M]urder is down around 20 percent in 2024 in more than 180 cities with available data this year compared to a comparable timeframe last year (as of the moment of this piece's publication).  Murder is down 20.5 percent in 183 cities with available data through at least January, down 20.2 percent in 174 cities with data through at least February, and down 20.8 percent in 59 cities with data through at least March 20....

We could still see, and perhaps should expect to see the sample's murder decline to regress towards a more normal rate of decline as the year goes on.  It's only April and there is a ton of time left in 2024 for these figures to regress, but murder is down roughly twice as much with a sample that’s twice as large as what we had last year at this time.... Murder is down more than 30 percent at the moment in Washington DC, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Columbus, Nashville, Philadelphia, and I could keep going....

It's not just murder data in cities pointing to a large decline.  Shooting data from the Gun Violence Archive shows a decline of around 12 percent in terms of shooting victims through March compared to 2023.  This matches the trend of declining shootings in 20 of the 25 cities with available shooting data through at least February this year. 

As readers may recall from prior posts, 2023 saw a considerable (perhaps historic) decline in homicides in the US compared to 2022 (which had itself recorded a small decline in homicides after significant increases in homicides throughout the US in 2020 and 2021).  But the latest AH Datalytics' collection of homicide data for 2024 from a large number of US cities shows now over a 20% cumulative decline(!) in murders across the nation's cities through roughly the first quarter of 2024.  Of course, these remarkable homicide numbers could change in the months ahead, but the many hundreds of fewer murders to start 2024 is certainly something to celebrate and hope it will continue.

Though not mentioned by Asher, I will note that the notable 2023 and 2024 declines in homicide come at a time of relatively low use of the death penalty and relatively lower rates of incarceration by US standards.  The last eight or so years, as detailed in this DPIC fact sheet, have seen historically few death sentences and executions across the US for the modern capital punishment era.  Also national incarceration totals and rates have been in relative (slow) decline for about a decade, and the US likely now has its lowest total incarceration rate since the mid 1990s.  Critically, I do not think these punishment trends can in any way directly explain recent homicide declines, but I had seen some claims that the spike in homicides in 2020 and 2021 might be atributed in part to these punishment trends.  Recent homicide declines would seem to partial couner worries that recent punishment trends a chief cause past homicide increases.  And if homicide levels keep dropping at the pace we have seen in 2023 and so far in 2024, we may soon hit modern record low levels in both homicides and severe punishments in the US. 

April 3, 2024 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (16)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Lots of (little?) news and updates from the US Sentencing Commission

This morning I received an email from the US Sentencing Commission with some items that seemed blogworthy:

Meeting Rescheduled

Notice of Public Meeting

The Commission has rescheduled its last public meeting of the 2023-2024 amendment year for April 17 at 1:30 pm (ET).  At the meeting, Commissioners may vote to promulgate amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. The meeting will be held in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building and will be streamed live.

New Data

IDA and JSIN Updates

The Commission has updated the Interactive Data Analyzer (IDA) and Judiciary Sentencing Information (JSIN). IDA now offers a brand new section presenting information on the prior convictions of individuals sentenced in the federal system. Visitors can also explore new data by the economic crime subtypes found under §2B1.1.

As previously noted in this post, the USSC had initially scheduled its concluding public meeting of the 2023-2024 amendment cycle, which includes "Vote to Promulgate Proposed Amendments," for April 10.  But now we have to wait another week to see if we get a vote on an acquitted conduct amendment and perhaps others from the Commission.

In the meantime, federal sentencing data junkies have the USSC's FY24 First Quarterly Data Report to check out, and this is a "preliminary data report [that] reflects information received on individuals sentenced through the first quarter of fiscal year 2024 (October 1, 2023 through December 31, 2023)."  My too-quick review of the data suggested that there are not big surprises (save perhaps a little dip in the total number of cases sentenced).

April 1, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

New and notable BOP data on relative success of the CARES home confinement cohort

This new Forbes piece by Walter Pavlo, headlined "Bureau Of Prisons Releases Encouraging Study On CARES Act," reports on new data from BOP showing the extremely low recidivism rae for those moved from federal prison into home confinement during the pandemic. Pavlo provides some of the context and key findings for this BOP report:

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) on March 25, 2020 just as the pandemic reached the United States. CARES Act allowed individuals in federal correctional facilities who were a Low or Minimum security risk with underlying health conditions to serve their sentence in home confinement earlier than they would have been eligible for without the CARES Act.

Prior to the CARES Act, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) allowed inmates to serve 10% of their sentence imposed, up to a maximum of 6 months, on home confinement as part of completing their sentence.  This program too is a success and allows inmates of all security levels to transition back into society.  Many of those in federal custody, about 90%, will eventually be released from custody. Transition back to society is an important part of the corrections process.

The BOP has now completed a study on the inmates who were transferred to home confinement under CARES Act and the results are encouraging. In a press release from the BOP, it stated, “These findings suggest that the CARES Act’s provision for early and extended home confinement did not negatively impact recidivism rates. In fact, it may have contributed to a reduction in post-release recidivism, offering a promising direction for justice-involved stakeholders seeking effective strategies to reduce incarceration and its associated costs, while also promoting public safety and successful reintegration into society.”...

The BOP has the policies to move more Minimum and Low security inmates back into society sooner. Under the Second Chance Act, signed by George W. Bush, inmates can be placed on prerelease custody for up to a year of their sentence. Prerelease custody includes halfway house and home confinement.  However, the BOP has struggled recently with halfway house capacity, leaving many of inmates in institutional prisons far longer than necessary.  This problem of shortages of halfway house space is problematic because the First Step Act allows inmates to earn credits toward additional home confinement based on the time served.  The maximum amount of time an inmate can earn each month is 15 days per month but there is no limit to the amount of credits that can be earned over the term of incarceration.  This means that inmates in the future could be on home confinement for years....

The study found that overall, the use of the CARES Act to send individuals to home confinement sooner and for longer periods did not have an apparent negative impact on their recidivism rates compared to others in home confinement. Results indicate that while in home confinement individuals with a CARES assignment fail no more or less than comparable persons in home confinement.  And those with a CARES assignment fail less often than comparable persons after release.

This study matters because there are currently 78,000 out of roughly 156,000 inmates who are minimum and low security inmates in federal prison. Supervision of inmates in home confinement is significantly less costly for the BOP than housing inmates in secure custody.  According to a Federal Register report on the CARES Act, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the cost of incarceration fee (COIF) for a Federal inmate in a Federal facility was $107.85 per day; in FY 2020, it was $120.59 per day.  In contrast, according to the Bureau, an inmate in home confinement costs an average of $55 per day — less than half of the cost of an inmate in secure custody in FY 2020.  Although the BOP’s decision to place an inmate in home confinement is based on many factors, where the BOP deems home confinement appropriate, that decision has the added benefit of reducing the expenditures.  Such cost savings were among the intended benefits of the First Step Act.

The BOP intends to build on the information from this study and others on home confinement.  Prisons remain crowded and many inmates are serving longer sentences in expensive institutions than are necessary.  Home confinement, which is a major benefit to both inmates and tax payers, is a big part of the First Step Act.  Whether the BOP can fully implement the program to get inmates out of prisons and into the community faster remains a challenge.

April 1, 2024 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Lots of perspectives at Vital City around criminal justice research

This new issue of the journal Vital City has a large collection of essays engaging with the rich topic of criminal justice research and practice.  There are too many intriguing pieces to flag or summarize them all here, but this Editors’ Note by Elizabeth Glazer and Greg Berman sets up the context and much of what follows. Here is an excerpt:

Starting in earnest during the Clinton administration, there has been a concerted effort by a range of important actors to try to encourage “evidence-based” criminal justice policy and programs — a phrase at once hilarious and poignant....

But the phrase does have a meaning, if coded.  The subtext, rarely spoken aloud, is an attempt to reduce the temperature of the public discourse about criminal justice, moving policymaking away from the realm of politics and into the realm of science as much as possible.  In the years before evidence-based reform emerged as a concept, high-profile tragedies — cases of child abduction or random murders — had been used to make the case for more punitive lawmaking throughout the country. At the federal level, the infamous Willie Horton campaign advertisement in 1988 performed similar work.

The evidence-based policy movement, in criminal justice and other fields, sought to move away from such demagoguery.  During the era of reduced crime that began in the 1990s, it proved reasonably successful. “Follow the data” became a rallying cry that appealed to both Democrats and Republicans.  One sign of the movement’s success was the creation of CrimeSolutions.gov, a website administered by the U.S. Department of Justice that summarizes academic research in an effort to help policymakers and practitioners figure out which criminal justice programs and practices work and which do not.

Recent years, however, have seen the emergence of a palpable backlash to the evidence-based movement.  Perhaps the most extreme expression of this backlash has been the argument by prison abolitionists and other radical activists that the evidence-based paradigm “strengthens the influence of neoliberalism, punitive impulses, and white supremacy over criminal system policy and procedure.”  They point to the fact that the United States is still plagued by levels of violence, racial disparities and incarceration rates that dwarf peer nations.  What use is social science evidence if it cannot prevent, or meaningfully ameliorate, these kinds of problems?

Earlier this year, Megan Stevenson, an economist at the University of Virginia Law School, published an essay in the Boston University Law Review raising further questions about evidence-based reform.  In “Cause, Effect, and the Structure of the Social World,” Stevenson reviews a half-century of randomized controlled trials (“RCTs” are known as the “gold standard” of social science) and finds that, “Most reforms and interventions in the criminal legal space are shown to have little lasting impact when evaluated with gold-standard methods of causal inference.”  For Stevenson, this is a reflection of the immutable social structures of the world that make change hard to engineer, at least when using the kinds of “limited-scope interventions” that lend themselves to randomized trials.  Provocatively, Stevenson argues that it may be necessary to abandon narrow, evidence-based reform and instead “seek systemic reform, with all its uncertainties.”

Stevenson’s essay got us thinking.  Is the notion that we can meaningfully address social problems a myth?  Does it really make sense to rely on evidence to guide policy?  And if so, what should this look like?

At the same time, our friends at Hypertext, the journal of the Niskanen Center — recently named the “most interesting think tank in American politics” by Time magazine — were wrestling with similar questions. So we decided to join forces. Together, we asked more than a dozen leading scholars, philanthropists, journalists and government policymakers to discuss the role of evidence in policymaking, using Stevenson’s article as a jumping-off point. The result of this exploration makes up the bulk of this issue of Vital City.

March 27, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2024

US Sentencing Commissions publishes 2033 Annual Report and new retroactivity data on 2023 criminal history amendments

This afternoon, the US Sentencing Commission sent out an email that flagged a bunch of notable new materials on the USSC's website.  Data fans will be especially interested in a lot of these new items, which I link below.  But everyone should mark their calendars for April 10, 2024; the USSC has now created a key date though this Public Meeting Notice.  This will be the last scheduled public meeting of the 2023-2024 amendment cycle for the Commission and on the agenda is "Vote to Promulgate Proposed Amendments."  I am hoping an acquitted conduct amendment will be among those getting a positive vote from the Commission, but we will need to tune in on April 10 to see.

In the meantime, USSC and federal sentencing data junkies have some new items to check out, and here is how the USSC's email reports on these new materials:

(Published March 25, 2024) - The 2023 Annual Report highlights the Commission’s major activities and accomplishments during fiscal year 2023.  The Annual Report also includes a new in-depth analysis of federal sentencing trends and noteworthy shifts in the caseload.

(Published March 25, 2024) - The Commission has published its first analysis of motions for a reduced sentence pursuant to retroactive application of Parts A and B of Amendment 821, relating to Criminal History (effective November 1, 2023).

(Published March 25, 2024) - The Commission continues to release additional fiscal year 2023 federal sentencing data following publication of the 2023 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics earlier this month.

March 25, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2024

"Misdemeanor Enforcement Trends in New York City, 2016–2022"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and lengthy new research report released today by the Brennan Center.  The report's homepage includes links to data and fact sheets and all sort of other interesting materials.  And the report's introduction highlights the importance of greater data gathering in this space, and here are a few paragraphs therefrom (with footnotes omitted):

When people think of the American criminal justice system, they think of prisons, lengthy sentences, and parole hearings. They also think of serious offenses such as murder, aggravated assault, and rape. But the majority of cases are less serious offenses, as defined in statute, including drug possession, shoplifting, gambling, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, vandalism, speeding, simple assault, and driving with a suspended license.  For many Americans, minor offenses — that is, misdemeanors, violations, and infractions — are the primary entry point into the criminal justice system. Entanglement in this part of the system is anything but minor....

Despite its broad reach, the minor offense system is difficult to quantify.  Government officials often do not collect data on infractions, civil violations, and other offenses they consider too trivial to count. The data that is collected — typically data on misdemeanors — is likely an undercount.  Even so, in the United States, misdemeanors amount to roughly three-quarters of all criminal cases filed each year. Every day, tens of thousands of people are ticketed, arrested, or arraigned for a misdemeanor, making it a central feature of the United States’ crisis of overcriminalization and an engine of its overreliance on incarceration.

In recent years, scholars and legal practitioners have brought attention to the need to rein in the sprawling minor offense system.  Misdemeanor adjudication has earned a reputation of assembly-line justice that lacks meaningful public defense or due process protections.  Some researchers have described it as a means to mark and manage disadvantaged groups deemed potential risks, whereby the “process is punishment.” In addition to the degradation of arrest, the imposed obligations and sanctions — frequent court appearances, the opportunity cost of lost wages, fines and fees, collateral consequences of a criminal record, and even jail detention — are frequently disproportionate to the severity of the crime....

As concern about the minor offense system has grown, efforts to shrink it have proliferated.  At the same time, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people in urban areas have perceived or experienced increased physical and social disorder in public spaces — petty theft, open drug use, public intoxication, people suffering mental health crises, homeless encampments, defacement of property, transit fare evasion, and public urination.  Petty and nuisance offenses, visible poverty, and public displays of disorderly and unpredictable behavior, coupled with high-profile media coverage of violent crimes and harassment, have renewed calls for stronger enforcement of lower-level offenses.

This report seeks to shed light on minor offense enforcement — what has changed in recent years, what has not, and what can be done to fix it.  Building on previous scholarship, it offers an updated national snapshot of the scale of misdemeanor cases filed between 2018 and 2021, highlighting changes over the Covid-19 pandemic.

March 21, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (28)

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Prison Policy Initiative releases tenth edition of its flagship report, now "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024"

Pie2024-2XIt is pi day, which for the last decade has meant a special treat for sentencing fans and criminal justice data fans: the Prison Policy Initiative's latest, greatest version of its amazing incarceration "pie" graphic and associated report. The latest report "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024" provides a spectacular accounting of the particulars of who and how of incarceration in the United States. As I have said in the past, the extraordinary "pies" produced by PPI impart more information in a few images than just about any other single resource I know about (and this PPI press release has the main visual and other highlights). Here is part of this latest pie report's introductory text and  overview (links and format from the original):

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. The uncertainty that results muddies the waters around our society’s use of incarceration, giving lawmakers and lobbyists the opportunity to advance harmful policies that do not make us safe. As criminal legal system reforms become increasingly central to political debate — and are even scapegoated to resurrect old, ineffective “tough on crime” policies — 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 legal system; instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold over 1.9 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 142 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories — at a system-wide cost of at least $182 billion each year.

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 common myths about mass incarceration to focus attention on overlooked issues that urgently require reform....

While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities, nor the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal legal system. In 2022, about 469,000 people entered prison gates, but people went to jail more than 7 million times. Some have just been arrested and will make bail within hours or days, while many others are too poor to make bail and remain in jail until their trial. Only a small number (about 102,700 on any given day) have been convicted, and are generally serving misdemeanors sentences of under a year. At least 1 in 4 people who go to jail will be arrested again within the same year — often those dealing with poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorders, whose problems only worsen with incarceration.

March 14, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission releases latest "compassionate release" data through Sept 2023

The US Sentencing Commission has now released its very latest data on sentence reduction motions on this webpage, which also includes additional graphics and context about court dispositions of what are typically known as "compassionate release" motions.  This Fiscal Year 2023 data run includes information through September 2023 (which is technically before the Commission's new guideline became law, but after it had been submitted to Congress).

As I have noted before, the long-term data going back to the height of the COVID pandemic period reveals, unsurprisingly, that we now see in FY 2023 many fewer sentence reduction motions filed or granted.  Though there are month-to-month variations, it would be roughly accurate to say that an average month of FY 2023 had a few dozen compassionate release motions granted and a few hundred of these motions denied nationwide.  In will be interesting to see if the relatively stable monthly patterns here change in any significant way in FY 2024 when the Commission's new guideline became the new law of the land (as of November 2023).

As I have noted before, among the striking stories in these data are the variations in application and grant rates from various districts.  As one example from the FY 2023 data, the Eastern District of Michigan granted half of a small number of sentence reduction motions (5 of only 10), whereas the Western District of Michigan granted none of a large number of sentence reduction motions (0 of only 60).  Similarly, the Northern District of Illinois granted nearly half of these motions in FY 2023 (13 of 27), whereas the Central and Southern District of Illinois each granted only one such motion out of a pool of 44 motions. 

There are all sorts of other interesting data points in this new report.  For example, it seems that a distinctively larger number of drug defendants secured sentencing reductions in FY 2023 (making up roughly 60% of the reduction grants while comprising only roughly 45% of the federal prison population).  Also, reasons reported by judges for granting these motions are also intriguing.

March 14, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

"An Overview of Intermittent Confinement and Weekend Incarceration in the U.S."

The title of this post is the title of this research document now available via SSRN that I helped with through the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center along with Peter Leasure and Jana Hrdinova. Here is its abstract:

In the current study, we provide an overview of federal law on intermittent confinement, present data on the use of intermittent confinement in the federal system and weekend incarceration in the state system, discuss existing research on intermittent confinement and weekend incarceration, and present results of a survey of federal probation officers on their opinions of intermittent confinement.  Overall, the results of the study indicated that intermittent confinement and weekend sentences are rarely used in federal and state systems (relative to traditional incarceration sentences). Additionally, we found that a single federal district (Texas West) accounted for the majority of federal intermittent confinement cases across several years of data.  Results of the survey of federal probation officers showed that logistical issues with intermittent confinement and incarceration facility availability may be a cause for low numbers of intermittent confinement sentences.  The finding about logistical issues with intermittent confinement was consistent with previous research.  Informed by these findings, directions for future research are discussed in detail.

March 12, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Fascinating data on state court criminal cases from the Court Statistics Project

I just came accross this recent data document from the Court Statistics Project, which collects annual caseload data from state courts. The document has notable data on all sorts of notable aspects of state court work, and here are just some of the criminal case highlights and the broader context:

In 2022, state courts handled 64.6 million incoming cases, a 2% increase from 2021, but caseloads are still down by 18.7 million cases when compared to the 2019 total of 83.2 million. As previously reported, 2020 represented a historic low for incoming caseloads. Courts started seeing a rebound in 2021 and 2022. Incoming civil cases were up 5% from 2021 to 2022, domestic relations and criminal cases were up 2%, and incoming traffic cases increased by 1%. Juvenile cases, in contrast to the overall trend, experienced a further decline in incoming cases from 2020 to 2021, before showing a 7% increase in 2022.

Criminal cases saw a slight increase in 2022.  They were up 2% from 2021, although still down 14% from 2019. In total, 46 states reported 13.7 million incoming criminal cases in 2022.  Ten million incoming misdemeanor cases (defined as those crimes with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and/or fines) were reported for 44 states, an increase of 1% from 2021 and a 16% drop from 2019.  Felony cases showed a 4% decrease from 2021 to 2.9 million cases. This is 10% below 2019 levels for incoming felony cases.

I often find it hard to fully wrap my head around these large numbers, and so I sometimes think about what these caseload numbers mean on a daily basis. In rough terms, these annual data mean that on each and every average work day there are 12,000 incoming felony cases and 40,000 incoming misdemeanor cases.

March 6, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (11)

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Prison Policy Initiative releases "Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024"

The folks at Prison Policy Initiative have released its latest version of in its "Whole Pie" incarceration series with this new report titled "Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024" authored by Aleks Kajstura and Wendy Sawyer.  As I always recommend, everyone should click through to see all the great graphics and broader narratives that go with these reports. Here are parts of text from the start and the very end of this report:

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experiences with incarceration.  How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? Why are they there?  How are their experiences different from men’s?  These are important questions, but finding the answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal legal systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly limited data that’s broken down by gender.

This report provides a detailed view of the 190,600 women and girls incarcerated in the United States and how they fit into the even broader picture of correctional control.  We pull together data from a number of government agencies and break down the number of women and girls held by each correctional system, by specific offense, in 446 state prisons, 27 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 80 Indian country jails, and 80 immigration detention facilities, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.  We also go beyond the numbers, including rare self-reported data from a national survey of people in prison to offer new insights about incarcerated women’s backgrounds, families, health, and experiences in prison. This report answers the questions of why and where women are locked up — and much more....

The picture of women’s incarceration is far from complete, and many questions remain about mass incarceration’s unique impact on women. This report offers the critical estimate that a quarter of all incarcerated women are unconvicted. But — since the federal government hasn’t collected the key underlying data in 20 years — is that number growing? And how do the harms of that unnecessary incarceration intersect with women’s disproportionate caregiving to impact families? Beyond these big picture questions, there are a plethora of detailed data points that are not reported for women by any government agencies. In addition to the many data holes and limitations mentioned throughout this report, we’re missing other basic data, such as the simple number of women incarcerated in U.S. territories or involuntarily committed to state psychiatric hospitals because of justice system involvement....

While more data are needed, the data in this report lend focus and perspective to the policy reforms needed to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.

March 5, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission releases its 2023 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics

I received via email this morning some exciting news for federal sentencing data nerds:

Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission released its 2023 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics (covering October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023).

The Sourcebook presents information on the 64,124 individuals sentenced in fiscal year 2023 — a federal caseload that held steady from the previous year.  The Sourcebook provides the public with a comprehensive and timely compilation of information received and analyzed by the Commission and collected from the 300,000+ sentencing documents submitted by the federal courts nationwide.

The Commission typically publishes its yearly Annual Report with its yearly Sourcebook, though the email I received indicted that this report would be forthcoming.  In future posts, I may try to mine some interesting factoids from the official FY2023 federal sentencing data, but I already noticed that it appears the number of sentencings in FY2023 (61,124) appears to be remarkably close to the sentencings completed in FY2022 (61,142 as reported in this prior post).

March 5, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, February 19, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 12, 2024

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

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

Supplemental Data: 2024 Proposed Amendment Relating to Simplification

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

Public Data Briefing: 2024 Proposed Amendment Relating to Youthful Individuals

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 21, 2024

"Heterogeneous Impacts of Sentencing Decisions"

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

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

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

Thursday, January 18, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 13, 2024

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 05, 2024

A more detailed accounting of Jan 6 riot sentencings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 01, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 29, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2023

Highlighting the many challenges in assessing recidivism data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 03, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2023

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 02, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Prior recent related post:

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

"Juvenile Crime and Anticipated Punishment"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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