Thursday, September 12, 2019

"The Democrats’ Shameful Legacy on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new New Republic piece by Marie Gottschalk.  It carries this subheadline: "Bill Clinton isn't the only one who deserves blame for turning America into a carceral state."  Here are excerpts:

For decades, a growing number of Democrats had been trying to reposition themselves as the party of law enforcement and to lure white voters away from the GOP.  With Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging Clinton to seize control of the issue by “upping the ante,” Democrats and Republicans engaged in a bidding war to see who could be the toughest and meanest sheriff in town.

The $30 billion law [known as the 1994 Crime Bill], passed 25 years ago this month, was the capstone of their efforts.  It included some modest funding for crime prevention programs, such as “midnight basketball,” but its main thrust was a vast array of punitive measures.  The crime bill funded 100,000 new police officers, established a federal three-strikes law, authorized more than $12 billion to prod states to lengthen time served and build new prisons, banned certain assault weapons, created dozens of new death penalty offenses, and ended federal educational Pell grants for inmates.  The crime bill did not significantly lower crime rates; it did, however, help transform the United States into the world’s warden, incarcerating more of its residents than any other country.

The United States has now begun a long overdue national reckoning about the bill — four years ago, Hillary Clinton faced questions about her and Bill Clinton’s complicity in mass incarceration, and Biden has also had to answer for his leading role in engineering the punitive turn taken by the Democratic Party.  But this reckoning still falls far short, partly because deep misunderstandings persist about the wider impact of the bill and other get-tough measures that built the carceral state over the last five decades.

While the Clintons and Biden are guilty as charged, they had many accomplices, some of whom were not the usual suspects.  For years, House and Senate Democrats had been pushing new legislation to curb domestic violence, but it did not come up for a floor vote until the Senate incorporated the measure into the crime bill in fall 1993.  To its credit, the Violence Against Women Act heightened public awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence and provided states and communities with important new resources for crisis centers, shelters, hotlines, and prevention programs.  But VAWA also emphasized law enforcement remedies and included measures that raised serious civil rights concerns — all with the help of many national and local organizations working against rape and domestic violence.  Many of these groups have since had second thoughts about “carceral feminism.”

During her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton claimed that the crime bill was passed with strong support from African Americans who were clamoring for tough measures to halt rising crime rates.  In reality, African Americans were deeply divided over the legislation and other criminal justice issues.  These divisions have only widened in the 25 years since then, as a new generation of “post-racial” black politicians sought to appeal to white and African American voters by castigating young black men and women as addicts, drug dealers, and common street criminals.  (In one notable example from 2011, then-Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia chastised black fathers as “sperm donors” and “doggone hoodie-wearing teens.”)  With the rise of Black Lives Matter, however, these and other activists are at last calling attention to the ways in which mass incarceration constitutes a new system of social control, one with disturbing parallels to the old Jim Crow era.

This stark reality is now a leading public issue, as it should be.  But it overshadows the deepening impact of the carceral state on other demographic groups.  The incarceration rate for white Americans — about 633 per 100,000 residents — appears relatively low compared to the rates for African Americans (3,044 per 100,000) and Hispanics (1,305 per 100,000), but it is more than ten times the national incarceration rates of certain Western European countries.  All told, half of all adults in the United States — or about 113 million people — have seen an immediate family member go to jail or prison for at least one night.

September 12, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Study suggests outdoor community service especially effective at reducing recidivism

The harms of solitary confinement and other extreme form of indoor isolation in correctional settings have been widely documented.  But this recent study, titled "The Effect of Horticultural Community Service Programs on Recidivism" and authored by Megan Holmes and Tina Waliczek, spotlights the potential benefits of outdoor community programming for justice-involved individuals.  Here is it abstract and final paragraph:

The average cost of housing a single inmate in the United States is roughly $31,286 per year, bringing the total average cost states spend on corrections to more than $50 billion per year. Statistics show 1 in every 34 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional supervision; and after 3 years, more than 4 in 10 prisoners return to custody. The purpose of this study was to determine the availability of opportunities for horticultural community service and whether there were differences in incidences of recurrences of offenses/recidivism of offenders completing community service in horticultural vs. nonhorticultural settings.  Data were collected through obtaining offender profile probation revocation reports, agency records, and community service supervision reports for one county in Texas.  The sample included both violent and nonviolent and misdemeanor and felony offenders.  Offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service.  Demographic comparisons found no difference in incidence of recidivism in comparisons of offenders based on gender, age, and the environment in which community service was served. In addition, no difference was shown in incidence of recidivism in comparisons based on offenders with misdemeanor vs. felony charges.  The results and information gathered support the continued notion that horticultural activities can play an important role in influencing an offender’s successful reentry into society....

Results of this study found those who completed any type of community service had less incidence of recidivism compared with those completing no community service. Results also found that offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service. When possible, community service options should be made available to those on probation or parole and include the opportunity for exposure to nature and the outdoors.  Past research (Latessa and Lowenkamp, 2005) found within correctional facilities that rates of recidivism were not affected from standard institutionalized punishment alone. However, basic adult education programs were an effective and promising method for lowering rates of recidivism among adult offender populations (Cecil et al., 2000).  Therefore, participating in horticultural programs on being released from prison or while on probation for the continuation of vocational and/or cognitive-behavioral training championed with community service could provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the individual, which could prove helpful for a successful transition back into society.  Future studies should investigate further the impact of the role of horticulture in the results of this study by comparing nonhorticultural outdoor, horticultural outdoor, and horticultural indoor activities as community service options in a similar study on the impact of recidivism.

September 8, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Why America Needs to Break Its Addiction to Long Prison Sentences"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Politico commentary authored by Ben Miller and Daniel Harawa." The piece carries the subheadline "Shorter sentences will end prison crowding and even reduce crime," and here are excerpts:

[A] pressing ... problem in our criminal legal system [is the] lack of meaningful mechanisms in place to allow people in prison to obtain release once they have proven to no longer pose a danger to our communities....  We have forgotten that our justice system is supposed to rehabilitate people, not just punish them....  Though some may point to parole as an option, the potential for release on parole has proven slim, with the federal government and 14 states having eliminated it completely.

For decades, while we made it increasingly difficult to obtain release, we have sent people to prison for longer and longer.  We became reliant on extreme sentences, including mandatory minimums, “three-strike” laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing requirements that limit opportunities for people to earn time off their sentences for good behavior. As a result, the United States laps the world in the number of people it incarcerates, with 2.2 million people behind bars, representing a 500 percent increase over the past four decades, with 1 in 9 people in prison serving a life sentence....

[I]f we want to significantly reduce the number of people this country incarcerates, legislation is needed at the federal level and in every state to allow everyone after a certain period in prison the opportunity to seek sentence reductions. Sentence review legislation recognizes that as we have increased the length of prison sentences and limited the ability to obtain release, our prisons have become overwhelmed with people whose current conduct proves further incarceration is not in the public interest.

We increased sentence lengths and made it more difficult for people to be released because we were told it was needed for public safety.  But sending people to prison for long periods does not reduce crime. In fact, longer sentences, if anything, create crime.  David Roodman, a senior adviser for Open Philanthropy, reviewed numerous studies on the impact of incarceration and concluded that “in the aftermath of a prison sentence, especially a long one, someone is made more likely to commit a crime than he would have been otherwise.”

Not only are lengthy prison sentences ineffective at reducing crime, but they have devastated low-income and minority communities.  As the Vera Institute aptly put it: “We have lost generations of young men and women, particularly young men of color, to long and brutal prison terms.”  While black people are just 13-percent of the country’s population, they account for 40 percent of the people we incarcerate.

If the ineffectiveness of long prison terms or the impact on poor communities of color is not reason enough to revisit lengthy prison sentences, the financial drain of long prison terms is staggering.  For example, U.S. prisons spend $16 billion per year on elder care alone.  Billions of dollars are diverted to prisons to care for the elderly who would pose no real risk if released when that money could be going to our schools, hospitals, and communities.

Given this reality, we need to pursue every option that would safely reduce our prison population.  One proposal by the American Law Institute recommends reviewing all sentences after a person has served 15 years in prison.  Another example is the bill Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced that would provide sentence review for anyone who has served more than 10 years in prison or who is over 50 years old.  Notably, neither proposal is restricted by the type of offense, which is critical, because to combat mass incarceration, to echo the Prison Policy Initiative, reform has “to go further than the ‘low hanging fruit’ of nonviolent drug offenses.”

The opposition to any sentence review policy is predictable.  Opponents will decry the danger of releasing “violent” people into the community.  This criticism is straight out of the failed tough-on-crime playbook that created the country’s mass-incarceration crisis in the first place.  It was this same message that pushed legislators and prosecutors for years to enact and seek extreme sentences that have overburdened prisons across the country.  This criticism rings hollow.

Measures that promote sentence review would not automatically release anyone.  Instead, people would be given a chance to show a court that they are no longer a danger to public safety.  A judge — after weighing all relevant circumstances, including hearing from any victims and their families — would then decide whether a person should be released....

Robust sentence review legislation that would help reduce both our prison population and the strain on government budgets must be part of every discussion about criminal justice reform.  Sister Helen Prejean has often said, “People are worth more than the worst thing they've ever done.”  Our policies should reflect the ability of people to change over the course of years — or decades — of incarceration.

September 8, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

USA Today starts series on non-violent lifers

Eileen Rivers has this new lengthy piece in USA Today, which notes that this is "the first installment in a series about prisoners serving life sentences for non-violent crimes ... being published in conjunction with the Buried Alive Project."  This first piece is fully titled "The graying of America's prisons: 'When is enough enough?'" and "Inmates over 55 are among the fastest growing population. They burden prisons and taxpayers, but pose the lowest threat to society."  Here is an excerpt:

In 1990, a federal judge sentenced [Wayne] Pray to life in prison without parole, plus three 25-year stints for, among other things, cocaine and marijuana possession and distribution.

Now 71, Pray has been locked up for three decades on nonviolent offenses, most recently at the federal prison in Otisville, New York.  He is one of about 20,000 older federal inmates — prisoners over 55 who are among the fastest growing population in the federal system. Many of them were given life amid the war on drugs of the 1990s.

Mandatory life sentences mean a federal prison population that is graying in large numbers.  This group puts the greatest financial burden on U.S. prisons, while posing the lowest threat to American society.

Pray's status, and that of others aging in the system, presents tough questions: How old is too old to remain incarcerated? Is Pray, at 71, the same threat he was at 41?  And if he isn't, then why is he still behind bars?...

From 1993 to 1996, nearly 800 drug offenders were sentenced to life without parole in federal prison, according to the Buried Alive Project, which tracks rates by year and state.  That's 57% higher than during the previous four-year period.

Prosecutors wield a lot of power when it comes to sentencing. It isn't uncommon for attorneys to push plea deals on defendants in exchange for information.  And the rejection of those deals sometimes means elevated charges that result in mandatory minimum federal sentences, including life....

While the First Step Act, passed by Congress last year, changes mandatory minimums for some federal offenders, not all will be helped by it, including inmates such as Pray who were convicted in cases involving powder cocaine instead of crack....

Pray says his brother started selling drugs at age 14 and was dead by 31. Court documents show that Pray was dealing by the time he was in his late 20s.  He used drug money to open up other businesses, according to Coleman. Pray says at one point he owned two used car dealerships and was a fight promoter.  "The lifestyle itself becomes addictive," Pray says.

The charges that led to his life sentence involved more than 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of cocaine and about 200 pounds of pot.  He maintains that the "kingpin" charge was trumped up, the result of a rejected plea deal. Prosecutors wanted information about other people, including politicians, that Pray says he refused to give....

Pray has applied for clemency twice to no avail.  Yet he still holds out hope that he'll be able to spend his final days with his family....  "I'm not trying to justify what I did. But let the punishment fit the crime," Pray said during our phone interview. "When is enough enough?"

September 4, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 02, 2019

"Association of Parental Incarceration With Psychiatric and Functional Outcomes of Young Adults"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recent published via JAMA Network Open and authored by Elizabeth Gifford, Lindsey Eldred Kozecke, Megan Golonka, Sherika Hill, E. Jane Costello, Lilly Shanahan and William Copeland. Here are its "Key Points" and its "Abstract":

Key Points

Question Is parental incarceration associated with increased odds of offspring receiving psychiatric diagnoses during young adulthood and experiencing obstacles that can derail a successful transition to adulthood (eg, in health, legal, financial, and social domains)?

Findings This cohort study, using data from a community-representative, longitudinal study, found that parental incarceration was associated with young adults’ increased odds of having an anxiety disorder, having a felony charge, spending time in jail, not completing high school, becoming a parent when younger than 18 years, and being socially isolated.

Meaning The findings suggest that parental incarceration is associated with offspring’s functional outcomes during young adulthood.

Abstract

Importance In 2016, an estimated 8% of US children younger than 18 years had experienced the incarceration of a parent, and rates were substantially higher among children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds and disadvantaged groups.  Little is known about whether parental incarceration during childhood is associated with adult psychiatric problems and functional outcomes.

Objective To examine whether parental incarceration is associated with increased levels of psychiatric diagnosis and poor outcomes in health, legal, financial, and social domains in adulthood.

Design, Setting, and Participants This cohort study used data from the community-representative, prospective, longitudinal Great Smoky Mountains Study. Children and their parents were interviewed up to 8 times from January 1993 to December 2000 (ages 9-16 years; 6674 observations of 1420 participants) using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment, which assessed parental incarceration, childhood psychiatric diagnoses, and other adversities.  Young adults were followed up at ages 19, 21, 25, and 30 years from January 1999 to December 2015 (4556 observations of 1334 participants) to assess psychiatric diagnoses and functional outcomes indicative of a disrupted transition to adulthood. Data analysis was conducted from June 2018 to June 2019.

Results By age 16 years, 475 participants (weighted percentage, 23.9%) had a parental figure who had been incarcerated, including 259 young men (22.2%) and 216 young women (25.5%).  Parental incarceration was associated with higher prevalence of childhood psychiatric diagnoses (eg, any depressive diagnosis: adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.5; 95% CI, 1.3-4.6; P = .006; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: aOR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.0-5.5; P = .06; and conduct disorder: aOR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.4-4.3; P = .001).  After accounting for childhood psychiatric diagnoses and adversity exposure, parental incarceration remained associated with increased odds of having an adult anxiety disorder (aOR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-3.0; P = .04), having an illicit drug use disorder (aOR, 6.6; 95% CI, 2.6-17.0; P < .001), having a felony charge (aOR, 3.4; 95% CI, 1.8-6.5; P < .001), incarceration (aOR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.4-5.4; P = .003), not completing high school (aOR, 4.4; 95% CI, 2.2-8.8; P < .001), early parenthood (aOR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-3.0; P = .04), and being socially isolated (aOR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.2-4.0; P = .009).

Conclusions and Relevance This study suggests that parental incarceration is associated with a broad range of psychiatric, legal, financial, and social outcomes during young adulthood. Parental incarceration is a common experience that may perpetuate disadvantage from generation to generation.

September 2, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Federal district judge finds confinement condition Connecticut's former death row inmates to be unconstitutional

This local article, headlined "U.S. Judge rules former Connecticut death row inmate’s incarceration amounts to cruel and unusual punishment," reports on notable prison rulings handed down by a federal court earlier this week.  Here are the basics:

A federal judge has condemned high security prison conditions in Connecticut, ruling that a convicted cop killer who was confined for years on the state’s death row has been subjected to “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Ruling in one of at least a half dozen federal civil rights suits by former death row inmate Richard Reynolds, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ordered the state to immediately relax the conditions under which he is confined and said he will consider imposing some sort of “damages” on the correction officers Reynolds names in his suit as defendants.

Underhill concludes in a set of decisions released Wednesday, one of them 57 pages long, that the conditions of confinement imposed by the state on former death row inmates — in particular the periods of time during which they are locked alone in their cells — amounts to a Constitutional violation.  “Reynolds committed a heinous crime ― he murdered a law enforcement officer,” Underhill wrote.  “Reynolds was sentenced to death and awaited execution for twenty-one years.  When the death penalty was abolished retroactively in Connecticut, Reynolds was resentenced to life without the possibility of release. The fact that people commit inhumane crimes does not give the state the right to treat them inhumanely. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment with a long history in American penal systems.”

In a related ruling, Underhill gave the Department of Correction a list of instructions that would relax Reynolds’ confinement and he ordered the state to provide him with a progress report in 30 days.  Among other things, Underhill said Reynolds should be allowed to socialize with inmates who have a lower security classification and be allowed “contact” with visitors.  Underhill also said that a “hearing in damages will follow to determine the scope and amount of liability of” the 10 or so correction officers Reynolds named in his suit....

Reynolds was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1995 for killing Waterbury police officer Walter Williams three years earlier.  In 2017, he was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release after the state Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional.  Reynolds has been confined for 23 years at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, the state’s most secure maximum security prison.  He is classified for security purposes as a “special circumstances inmate” — the highest classification — and lives alone in a 12 foot by 7 foot cell.

At the center of Underhill’s ruling is the assertion that a variety of conditions imposed in prison on former death row inmates — extended periods locked alone in their cells, prohibition against mingling with lower security inmates and their inability to touch visitors amounts in Reynolds’ case to psychological torture and it could be damaging his mental health.

Underhill wrote that Reynolds is allowed out of his cell for two 15-minute periods to eat lunch and dinner.  He is allowed to take one 15-minute shower each day, two hours of recreation each day for six days a week and two hours of weekly indoor gym recreation. Reynolds may, upon request, receive visits from clergy, attorneys, or prison medical staff. “Other than those periods, Reynolds remains isolated with no contact with anyone but the six other inmates on special circumstances status,” Underhill wrote.  “Although he is allowed social visits with family members, no physical contact is permitted during those visits, which occur through Plexiglass.”

August 30, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"Higher Education Programs in Prison: What We Know Now and What We Should Focus on Going Forward"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new RAND publication authored by Lois Davis.  This webpage provides this overview of the 16-page document:

Each year, more than 700,000 incarcerated individuals leave federal and state prisons and return to local communities where they will have to compete with individuals in those communities for jobs.  In today's economy, having a college education is necessary to compete for many jobs, and the stakes for ex-offenders are higher than they are for others. There are different perspectives about whether postsecondary programs in prison should lead to academic degrees or industry-recognized credentials.  Drawing on past RAND research on correctional education and focusing on the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative and the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education initiative in North Carolina, this Perspective summarizes research on the effectiveness of educational programs in helping to reduce recidivism, key lessons learned in providing college programs to incarcerated adults, and remaining issues that need to be addressed, including how to ensure long-term funding of in-prison college programs and the need for an outcomes evaluation to learn from the Experimental Initiative.

Key Findings

Providing access to college education for incarcerated adults can help reduce the nation's substantial recidivism rates

  • For successful reentry, the educational and skills deficits of incarcerated individuals need to be addressed.
  • Correctional education and postsecondary programs are effective in reducing recidivism.
  • Correctional education is also cost-effective.
  • There are a number of challenges to implementing prison education programs.
  • Restoring access to Pell Grants will help address some, but not all, of the funding support needed for in-prison college programs.

Recommendations

  • Besides restoring Pell Grant eligibility, other options should be considered for ensuring long-term funding of in-prison college programs.
  • An outcomes evaluation of in-prison college programs and the Pell Experimental Initiative is needed to inform how best to provide these programs.

August 29, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"Arrest, Release, Repeat: How police and jails are misused to respond to social problems"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by By Alexi Jones and Wendy Sawyer.  Here is how the report gets started:

Police and jails are supposed to promote public safety. Increasingly, however, law enforcement is called upon to respond punitively to medical and economic problems unrelated to public safety issues.  As a result, local jails are filled with people who need medical care and social services, many of whom cycle in and out of jail without ever receiving the help they need.  Conversations about this problem are becoming more frequent, but until now, these conversations have been missing three fundamental data points: how many people go to jail each year, how many return, and which underlying problems fuel this cycle.

In this report, we fill this troubling data gap with a new analysis of a federal survey, finding that at least 4.9 million people are arrested and jailed each year, and at least one in 4 of those individuals are booked into jail more than once during the same year. Our analysis shows that repeated arrests are related to race and poverty, as well as high rates of mental illness and substance use disorders.  Ultimately, we find that people who are jailed have much higher rates of social, economic, and health problems that cannot and should not be addressed through incarceration.

August 27, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Prosecutors Need to Take the Lead in Reforming Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Atlantic commentary authored by Lucy Lang.  The piece has the subtitle "Attorneys on the front lines of the criminal-justice system should be pressing for a drastically different model of incarceration."  And here are excerpts:

My years of prosecuting violent street crime and working with crime survivors and their families had deeply sensitized me to the devastating impact of violent crime on individuals and communities.  In fact, not so long ago, it was crime victims who were the forgotten ones in the criminal-justice system.  But [a victim] mother’s astounding display of empathy made me question whether I had given adequate thought to the impact of incarceration on individuals and, in turn, affected communities. I had focused on crime, but had I thought enough about punishment? I was myself the mother of two young children.  If a mother could find compassion for the men who killed her son, then surely I could too....

While the criminal-justice system, nationally and locally, has undergone significant reforms in recent years, the system requires far more extensive change.  Reform-minded prosecutors in jurisdictions across the country are working to tailor responses to crime to address its underlying causes and reduce our reliance on prisons while still encouraging accountability for those who cause harm.  They are looking to public-health and harm-reduction models as they try to keep many people out of prison and to identify ways to carefully tailor the appropriate amount of prison time for others.

It is not enough, though, for prosecutors to decline prosecution of low-level offenses and to create alternatives to incarceration for appropriate cases.  These work-arounds are important, but the majority of incarcerated Americans are imprisoned for crimes of violence.  Simply diverting nonviolent offenders and reducing sentence lengths will not solve mass incarceration.  And the use of these increasingly politically popular strategies for shrinking the footprint of the criminal-justice system ought not delay addressing the unconscionable state of American prisons....

[P]rosecutors should create Civil Rights Enforcement Units, just as many have created Alternatives to Incarceration Units and Conviction Integrity Bureaus.  Such units should focus on the development and maintenance of humane prison conditions, including advocating for the prisons on which they rely to implement trauma-informed training borrowed from medical and social work institutions, designed to encourage prison staff to treat residents with dignity and to create a culture of mutual respect.

Such units would serve as liaisons with departments of corrections, state attorneys general, and other relevant agencies to break down the silos that have enabled modern American prisons to damage their residents and employees alike for far too long, and thereby perpetuated the cycles of violence in our communities.  These units could lobby state legislatures to reform conditions, assist in allocating resources to prison programs and education, and communicate with parole and probation departments.  And finally, they could do the important work of educating prosecutors about the realities of the prison system, so that every time a prosecutor recommends a jail or prison sentence, she does so with full knowledge of what that sentence is likely to entail.

Prosecutors are, of course, neither solely responsible for, nor alone capable of solving the civil-rights crisis of mass incarceration.  Judges, police officers, defense attorneys, corrections officers, community advocates, and others have all contributed to the steep increase in people incarcerated and under correctional supervision in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  Each of these groups must step up to identify solutions.  And there will always be some people who cannot appropriately and safely remain in the community after committing an offense.  But prison must not inflict undue suffering....

Everyone who takes the oath of a prosecutor’s office in this country should come to work feeling the moral weight of our unacceptable prison conditions.  District attorneys can profoundly transform the criminal-justice system if they recognize their own role in perpetuating the harms of prison and commit to fixing American prisons.  Prosecutors should proactively employ their considerable power to investigate and prosecute abuse, other criminal conduct, and civil-rights violations behind bars, and use their bully pulpits to speak out loudly in favor of a drastically different prison model.  Prosecutors can promote long-term public safety and accountability, while also manifesting the empathy that has been too long absent in our system. The integrity of the system depends on it.

August 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Making the case for education as the means "to radically change the lives of the incarcerated"

Sean Pica has this new commentary headlined "The First Step is just the beginning. Here’s how to radically change the lives of the incarcerated." Here are excerpts:

"95 percent of all state prisoners will be released at some point in their lives. This includes most of the estimated 1,800 inmates incarcerated in Sing Sing Correctional Facility — a maximum-security prison located just 30 miles from New York City — and the place where I spent nearly 16 years of my life.

As more and more prisoners are being freed, some are skeptical that the incarcerated and those with criminal records are worthy of a second chance. They ask: is rehabilitation possible?  As a former inmate, I’m living proof that it is possible to reintegrate back into society and lead a productive life.  But to do that, the formerly incarcerated and those with a criminal record need a helping hand.

For me, it was being the beneficiary of bold thinking from the New York State Department of Corrections.  Thanks to their efforts, I was able to earn a college degree inside of Sing Sing through Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. The nonprofit, which I now lead, provides a college education and reentry support services to incarcerated men and women in five New York correctional facilities.

Recently, I helped organize Hudson Link’s biggest graduation ceremony to date, 48 graduates in total — most of them minorities — with more than 400 family members, friends, and well-wishers cheering them on....  In its 21-year history, Hudson Link has helped more than 700 men and women earn a college diploma, saving New York state taxpayers over $21 million per year.  The program boasts a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent.

Thanks to partners like the nonprofit Stand Together Foundation and inspiring correctional leaders like Sing Sing Superintendent Michael Capra, Hudson Link is helping put an end to the vicious cycle of recidivism and inter-generational incarceration by breaking down barriers that prevent people from realizing their full potential.

Let’s move away from the tired mentality of seeing prisoners as a punchline and a liability to manage, but instead as men and women with the potential to accomplish great things.

UPDATE: Not long after posting this Pica piece, I came across this similar New York Daily News commentary by Darnell Epps headlined "Help former prisoners learn: Giving the incarcerated access to higher education helps them recover their humanity." Here is a snippet:

This week, classes begin at Cornell University for some 20,000 students, including me. It’s my senior year. I’m probably not the type you expect to see at Cornell, a university that graduated the likes of the Notorious RBG and billionaire magnate Robert Smith; no, my pathway included a 17-year prison sentence, for my role in a shooting.  Yet I hope my presence here — and my future success in pursuing a law degree — sends a powerful message that former prisoners can not only contribute to society, but can do important things....

The Crime Bill, signed into law 25 years ago, ended Pell Grants for folks in prison, eventually drying up funding and causing many colleges to withdraw from prisons altogether. That was a terrible mistake.  Today, federal lawmakers debate the language and scope of the Restoring Education and Learning Act — a measure that would give thousands of prisoners the chance to get some tuition help.  They must think big.

August 25, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Lots of advice on federal prisons for AG Barr and the new leadership at the Bureau of Prisons

As reported here, this week started with Attorney General William Barr announcing the appointment Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Dr. Thomas R. Kane as the Deputy Director.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this development has prompted some folks to share advice on how federal prison system could be better run.  Here is some of the discussion I have noticed:

By Mark Holden via the Washington Examiner, "New Bureau of Prisons leadership should focus on rehabilitation"

By Emily Mooney via the Washington Examiner, "AG William Barr must do more to fix dismal prison conditions" by

By Jaime Nawaday and Jack Donson via The Hill, "A better way to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons"

By Laura Paddison at HuffPost, "How Norway Is Teaching America To Make Its Prisons More Humane"

Via NPR, "What's Changed Since Kathleen Hawk Sawyer Last Headed Prison Bureau?"

August 23, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

"The Thirteenth Amendment: Modern Slavery, Capitalism, and Mass Incarceration"

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

The Article makes two conceptual contributions.  First, it tells a story about the Thirteenth Amendment forbidding one form of slavery while legitimating and preserving others. Of course, the text does not operate absent important actors: legislatures and courts.  Yet, as explained by Reva Siegel, despite “repeated condemnation of slavery,” such united opposition to the practice "may instead function to exonerate practices contested in the present, none of which looks so unremittingly 'evil' by contrast."  In this case, uncompensated prison labor inures economic benefits to the state and the companies capable of extracting it.

The Article argues that this preservation of the practice of slavery through its transformation into prison labor means only that socially, legislatively, and judicially, we have come to reject one form of discrimination: antebellum slavery, while distinguishing it from marginally remunerated and totally unremunerated prison labor, which courts legitimate.  The Article tells the story of post-slavery convict leasing; fraud and debt peonage; as well as the heinous practices imposed on children through coercive apprenticeship laws throughout the American south.  The Article then addresses modern slavery's transformations, including federal and state prison labor and the rise of private prisons.  It concludes by offering pathways forward.

August 21, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 19, 2019

AG Barr announces new leadership for the federal Bureau of Prisons

A high-profile controversy in the criminal justice can have lots of ripples, and those ripples made it to the head of the federal Bureau of Prisons as detailed in this official press release from the US Department of Justice. Here are the basics:

Attorney General William P. Barr today announced he will appoint Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and Dr. Thomas R. Kane as the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  Dr. Hawk Sawyer previously served as Director of BOP from 1992 – 2003.

“I am pleased to welcome back Dr. Hawk Sawyer as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Under Dr. Hawk Sawyer’s previous tenure at the Bureau, she led the agency with excellence, innovation, and efficiency, receiving numerous awards for her outstanding leadership, “ said Attorney General Barr.  “I am also pleased to announce Dr. Thomas R. Kane as the Deputy Director of BOP. Dr. Kane served in the Bureau for over thirty years under four Attorneys General and is known for his expertise and proficiency in prison management and organization. During this critical juncture, I am confident Dr. Hawk Sawyer and Dr. Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill, and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers.  I would also like to thank Hugh Hurwitz, Acting Director of BOP, for his dedication and service to the Bureau over the last fifteen months.  I have asked Mr. Hurwitz to return to his responsibilities as Assistant Director of BOP’s Reentry Services Division, where he will work closely with me in overseeing the implementation of one of the Department’s highest priorities, the First Step Act.”

August 19, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Is Mass Incarceration Inevitable?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Andrew Leipold now available on SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The claim that American justice system engages in "mass incarceration" is now a cliché, albeit one that seems entirely justified by both the number and rate of people who are behind bars.  As a result, a large number of states and the fed­eral government have engaged in wide-ranging reform efforts to shorten senten­ces, divert people from prison, and in general reduce incarceration numbers to more manageable levels.  Although these efforts have made modest gains, there has been little discussion of whether their ultimate goal is feasible-reducing incarceration levels to a point where "mass" incarceration is no longer an apt description.

This article explores the likelihood of a meaningful, sustained reduction in incarceration rates. It begins by asking what we really mean by mass incarcera­tion and finds that while the definition is surprisingly complex, the label ulti­mately seems justified.  Then, using existing and original compilations of data, the article examines some of the less-obvious obstacles to reducing prison popula­tions.  In particular, it highlights the difficulty of reducing incarceration rates without addressing the problems created by those convicted of violent crimes, something few reforms have been willing or able to do.  It also argues that those who believe prison reform will lead to economic savings-a primary motivation in virtually every state-are misguided, and that illusion of economic savings might ultimately derail the reform efforts.

The article then takes a further step and suggests that efforts to decrease incarceration levels will inevitably be frustrated unless the most influential per­son in the creation of mass incarceration, the prosecutor, is induced to play a more central role.  To date, reform efforts have routinely targeted everyone in the process except prosecutors, and this article offers both suggestions on why this is so and an argument for why prosecutors are an indispensable part of any change.  The article concludes with the sobering prediction that, as useful as recent reforms have been, as currently constructed they will ultimately be inad­equate to erase the mass incarceration label for years to come.

August 15, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Shouldn't all prosecutors (and judges and defense attorneys and police and probation officers) make regular and repeated visits to prisons?

Last month the folks at FAMM started the #VisitAPrison challenge which calls on lawmakers to visit a prison or jail and which rightly highlights that many legislators who make and change laws governing incarceration often have no direct or personal experiences with prisons or persons incarcerated therein. I consider the FAMM campaign very valuable and important, and this interesting new piece by Daniel Nichanian at The Appeal Political Report prompted the follow-up question that serves as the title of this post.  This piece is headlined "Prosecutor Sends Staff to Prison, in a Bid to Counter Their Reflex to Incarcerate,"and I recommend it in full. Here are excerpts:

Sarah Fair George, the state’s attorney of Chittenden County (home to Burlington) in Vermont, has instructed all staff and prosecutors who work in her office to visit the St. Albans prison, also known as the Northwest State Correctional Facility. “Most prosecutors have never stepped foot in the buildings that they sentence people to spend years in,” she wrote on Twitter. “That needs to change.”

I talked to George on Wednesday about her initiative, and how it could change practices in her office. She said prosecutors often treat prison time “nonchalantly,” as something abstract, and get in the habit of “just throwing out numbers.” “We say six months or two years, and don’t really have to think about what it means for the person,” she explained.

“It’s important to stand in that space and see it for yourself, and feel it for yourself,” she added. “My hope is that people recognize that six months is a long time to spend in jail. Maybe thirty days can be enough time, maybe no jail. Just being more cognizant of the space you’re sending people to when you put an arbitrary number on an offer sheet.”

George said this perspective should fuel shorter sentences, but also restrain prosecutors from seeking incarceration in the first place. “They spent an hour and a half there and were relieved to get out,” she said of staff members who have already visited St. Albans as part of her initiative. “So let’s imagine how this might impact somebody who is there for six months or a year, and how this impacts them as a community member when they get back out. Is there a way that we can avoid that entirely, and not risk them coming out a more violent person or with some type of trauma having been in jail? Can we find another way?”...

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Q: You announced that you have instructed prosecutors in your office to visit a prison in the next month. What is the impetus for this, and what insights do you wish them to glean?

A:  For me, it has gone back to my own experience having been in some of these prisons. It has shaped a lot of my reform policies and how I approach prosecution in general. When I was in grad school, I went to multiple prisons and was on the mental health wards at those prisons, which were in some cases pretty appalling. Then, when I was at the public defender’s office, I went to several prisons and met with clients and heard the stories of either how they were treated in jail or the conditions of jail, solitary confinement, stuff like that. I came into being a prosecutor with that background, and with that idea of what some of those prisons are like.

I have always thought it is important for people to understand what probation does, and what some of our community partners do, and that’s always been stressed. But it’s never been stressed that they should also fully understand what prison means, and what a jail sentence means for these individuals. As prosecutors, we get very comfortable with just throwing out numbers as an amount of time. We say six months or two years, and don’t really have to think about what it means for the person, that six months for one person could be detrimental to their entire lives.

What are you thinking of when you say it’s important to understand what prison means for individuals? What it is that you think people in your office should have to witness?

Literally just seeing the facility, and understanding literally where they’re sending people. But also being in one of those cells and sitting on the bed in a cell and seeing how small that space is, and seeing a solitary confinement room and seeing how claustrophobic you get in five minutes in that room. Hearing those sounds in the jail of those doors closing, and how cold and harsh all of those sounds are. Seeing inmates in that environment. In Vermont, there is this idea that jail isn’t that bad, and in some sense we’re very lucky, but that’s a lot easier to say on the outside. You spend an hour and a half in the jail and you find yourself relieved to come out. You know you were always coming out, but you have that experience and you think, “Okay, maybe that TV and that good food is not as important as I thought it was when I just lost my freedom for an hour and a half, knowing full well I’ll be coming out and I’m still relieved.”

As a prosecutor, the only time I’ve been to a jail is for a deposition of an inmate, or an inmate who wants to do a proffer. Those meetings are very structured, they’re in a space right inside the jail, so you’re not going very far. There’s really nobody else around. That doesn’t count for me, that’s a very easy way to say you’ve been in a jail without actually being in a facility. I think it’s important to really stand in that space and see it for yourself, and feel it for yourself.

Q:  How exactly do you think prosecutors should take these things into account in the course of their work? At what stages of their discretion should this weigh in?

A: It may not start necessarily with the charging decisions, but I think in some cases it could. If you know for example that this person’s parole could be revoked and they may go back to jail, or you know that they might be held in bond or some other violation, then maybe it does charge at the charging decision. But at the very least, I think that when you’re giving an offer on a case and you nonchalantly say six months as if that’s not a lot of time, my hope is that people recognize that six months is a long time to spend in jail. Maybe thirty days is enough time, maybe no jail. Just being more cognizant of the space you’re sending people to when you put an arbitrary number on an offer sheet.

But also understanding where people are coming from. Somebody may have a long record, and that record has led to incarcerative sentences several times in their history — maybe you can have a better understanding of why they are in the place that they’re in, having spent all that time in jail. Maybe doing it again isn’t going to do them hasn’t favors. That hasn’t worked, that person is back. Maybe we need to find another way to address this particular person.

August 15, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Some fitting context for thinking about deaths while incarcerated

I have not written about Jeffrey Epstein's death while incarcerated in part because so many others are writing about it, and in part because so many other people die in jails and prisons without getting the attention and generating the scrutiny surrounding Epstein's death.  But Ken White has this new piece in The Atlantic, headlined "Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison," that provides some of the context I find fitting.  Here is how the piece gets started and a few of the stories:

Jeffrey Epstein’s name and face are everywhere following his death.  Even as an investigation reveals that the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he died, was terminally short-staffed and relied on untrained guards who failed to monitor him, conspiracy theories persist.  Americans who believe in their justice system assert that it is obvious that he was murdered, and that jailers could not possibly be so incompetent, cruel, or indifferent as to let such a high-profile prisoner commit suicide.

Here, to help you evaluate that claim, are 32 short stories about in-custody deaths or near-deaths in America.

These stories don’t mention Jeffrey Epstein, but they are about him.  Epstein was incarcerated in the United States of America, and this is how the United States of America, the mightiest and richest nation there is or ever has been, treats incarcerated people.  When you say, “There is no way that guards could be so reckless, so indifferent, so malicious as to just let someone as important as Epstein die,” this is how 32 Americans respond.  Many, many more could respond in kind....

Terrill Thomas died of dehydration in his cell in Milwaukee after jailers turned off the water to his cell for seven days. The jail was under the leadership of then-Sheriff David Clarke, a hero to law-and-order types.

Jonathan Magbie, a paraplegic in a wheelchair who needed 24-hour care, was arrested for marijuana possession in Washington, D.C., in 2008.  He required a ventilator to breathe when he slept. The jail didn’t have the facilities to care for him, and so he died in jail.

Andrew Holland died in a restraint chair in San Luis Obispo County, California.  He was strapped to the chair, naked, for two days. If you like, you can watch video of the guards laughing as medics try fruitlessly to perform CPR, though I would not recommend it.

August 14, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem"

The title of this post is the title of this recent posting over at the Brennan Center for Justice authored by Cameron Kimble and Ames Grawert. The subheading provide a summary of its main points: "Some still argue that increasing imprisonment is necessary to reduce crime. Data show otherwise." Here are excerpts:

It’s now been several decades since states around the country began experimenting with criminal justice reform — specifically, by reducing the number of people behind prison bars. Now we can start to take stock of the results. They’re encouraging — but with the prison population still sky-high, there’s a lot more to do.

Between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates simultaneously, showing clearly that reducing mass incarceration does not come at the cost of public safety. The total number of sentenced individuals held in state prisons across the U.S. also decreased by 6 percent over the same decade. And these drops played out across the country....

While it’s tempting to focus on the Southern states — which were some of the most notable early adopters of reform — reductions in the last decade occurred across the board. The Northeast saw the largest average decline in imprisonment rate (24 percent), with only Pennsylvania recording an increase (3 percent). Crime rates also dropped fastest in the Northeast region, falling by just over 30 percent on average.

By contrast, the Midwest saw imprisonment rates drop by only 1 percent on average, and that modest reduction was driven by Michigan (20 percent), where recent criminal justice reforms are focused on reducing recidivism. With returns to prison down 41 percent since 2006, the state is home to one of the most comprehensive statewide reentry initiatives in the country....

It’s tough to say why some states successfully reduced their prison population while others failed. One possible commonality relates to socioeconomic well-being. Over half of the states where imprisonment rates grew had poverty rates above the national average as well. Those states were also some of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. West Virginia typifies this experience: crime rates dropped, but incarceration rose amidst the state’s struggles with opioid abuse and poverty....

The data clearly demonstrate that the United States’ prison population can be reduced without sacrificing the public safety gains of recent decades. Thirty-four states seem to have accepted this notion, as reflected by their (often) sharp declines in rates of imprisonment. Others lag far behind.

To this day, the United States imprisons its citizens at a higher rate than any other Western democracy. Though recent progress is surely encouraging, at the current rate of decarceration it would take nearly 40 years to return to imprisonment rates observed in 1971 — the last time the national crime rate was this low. And some aspects of justice reform are moving backwards. According to one recent study, jail reform is a purely urban phenomenon, as rural incarceration rates are actually increasing.

There’s no single solution to mass incarceration. Instead, states must continue making efforts to reduce imprisonment. And the minority of states that have not embraced decarceration need not look far to see that overreliance on incarceration is an ineffective and expensive means of keeping the public safe.

August 11, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

"Consequences of mental and physical health for reentry and recidivism: Toward a health‐based model of desistance"

The title of this post is the title of this recent Criminology article authored by Nathan Link, Jeffrey Ward and Richard Stansfield. Here is its abstract:

During the last few decades, criminologists have identified several adult roles and statuses, including employment, positive family relations, and economic stability, as critical for promoting successful reintegration and desistance.  Very few researchers, however, have investigated the conditions that serve to bring about these transitions and successes crucial for behavior change.  As a complement to a burgeoning amount of literature on the impact of incarceration on health, we emphasize the reverse: Health has important implications for reentry outcomes and reincarceration.

Informed by multiple disciplines, we advance a health‐based model of desistance in which both mental and physical dimensions of health affect life chances in the employment and family realms and ultimately recidivism.  Investigating this issue with longitudinal data from the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) and structural equation models, we find overall support for the health‐based model of desistance.  Our results indicate several significant pathways through which both manifestations of health influence employment, family conflict, financial problems, and crime and reincarceration.  The findings highlight the need for implementation of correctional and transitional policies to improve health among the incarcerated and avert health‐related reentry failures.

August 3, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 01, 2019

"Using the ADA's 'Integration Mandate' to Disrupt Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now on SSRN authored by Robert Dinerstein and Shira Wakschlag.  Here is the abstract:

As a result of the disability rights movement's fight for the development of community-based services, the percentage of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and mental illness living in institutions has significantly decreased over the last few decades.  However, in part because of government failure to invest properly in community-based services required for a successful transition from institutions, individuals with disabilities are now dramatically overrepresented in jails and prisons. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) "integration mandate" -- a principle strengthened by the Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision, entitling individuals with disabilities to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs -- may provide one avenue to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and overrepresentation of people with I/DD and mental illness in prisons and jails.  In this Article, we explore how the federal government and private parties have used--and are beginning to use in new ways -- the integration mandate to advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive the supports they need to thrive in the community and avoid unnecessary entanglement with the criminal justice system.

August 1, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

"The Singularity and the Familiarity of Solitary Confinement"

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

More than 60,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.  This essay explores the ways in which solitary confinement is distinctive and yet also is a familiar feature of U.S. prisons.  To do so, I track the expansion of solitary confinement, analyze the debate in federal courts about its lawfulness, and provide recent data on its widespread use.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court condoned the use of solitary confinement, even as it also licensed courts to inquire about whether a particular version imposed an “atypical and significant hardship” on an individual.  If a prisoner can make such a showing, prison officials must provide some procedural buffers against arbitrary placements.

Empirical understandings of the use of solitary confinement comes through nation-wide surveys undertaken by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Liman Center at Yale Law School.  Data from 2018 identified more than 60,000 individuals who were placed in cells for 15 days or more for 22 hours or more.  Almost 4,000 people have been so confined for three years or more.

Solitary confinement is thus all too “typical” a facet of prison life.  Yet its commonplace occurrence ought not insulate solitary confinement from the conclusion that it is an illicitly cruel practice that debilitates individuals.  The complexity of doing so stems not only from the widespread use of solitary confinement, but also from the ways in which U.S. prisons are committed to many practices that are isolating and disabling of individuals.

August 1, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Effect of Public Health Insurance on Criminal Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Erkmen Giray Aslim, Murat Mungan, Carlos Navarro and Han Yu. Here is its abstract:

The prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders is high among incarcerated individuals.  Many ex-offenders reenter the community without receiving any specialized treatment and return to prison with existing behavioral health problems.  We consider a Beckerian law enforcement theory to identify different sources through which access to health care may impact ex-offenders' propensities to recidivate, and empirically estimate the effect of access to public health insurance on criminal recidivism. 

We exploit the plausibly exogenous variation in state decisions to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  Using administrative data on prison admission and release records from 2010 to 2016, we find that the expansions decrease recidivism for both violent and public order crimes.  In addition, we find that the public coverage expansions substantially increase access to substance use disorder treatment.  The effect is salient for individuals who are covered by Medicaid and referred to treatment by the criminal justice system. These findings are most consistent with the theory that increased access to health care reduces ex-offenders' perceived non-monetary benefits from committing crimes.

I think the punchy way to pitch these findings would be to say that Obamacare reduces crime and limiting or eliminating Obamacare risks increasing crime.  Very interesting (though not all that surprising for folks who think through issues at the intersection of criminal justice and health care access).

July 29, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Federal prison population, thanks in part to the FIRST STEP Act, hits lowest level in over 15 years

Federal prison populationEvery Thursday morning, one can see at this webpage an official refreshed count of the total number of federal inmates as calculated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. That page also has a chart and data on the total number of federal inmates for each fiscal year going back to 1980. A quick look at these data reveal that in FY 2013, the federal prison population hit a modern high of 219,298.

But this morning, we were down to "only" 177,619 inmates.  I put "only" in quotes because back in 1980, we had truly only 24,640 federal prisoners. But the last time there were fewer prisoners than this morning in federal facilities was way back in FY 2003. So I think it is quite notable and exciting to see such a decline over the last six years after such enormous growth the previous 33.

I have been following these numbers closely for a number of years, and I have been especially focused on week-to-week changes during the years of the Trump Administration because I feared that an uptick in federal prosecutions and various new sentencing directive begun under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions might reverse the trend of prison population reduction that started during the second part of the Obama Administration.  But it seems that a lot of forces worked in various ways to kept the federal prison population at just over 180,000 inmates for much of the last three years.  And now, thanks to the FIRST STEP Act's "good time fix" finally kicking in, we are this week significantly below that 180,000 inmate threshold.

I would love to be able to predict that the FIRST STEP Act will ensure that the federal prison population keeps going down, but I am not sure that would be a sound prediction.  It is possible that the continued robust implementation of various components of the FIRST STEP Act will keep the downward trends moving.  But continued increases in the number of cases prosecutors by the Justice Department could get us back to an era of federal prison population growth (though that growth would likely be relatively modest).

July 25, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Noticing the (inevitable?) contentions that the right people are in prison and the wrong people are getting out

At a time of considerable excitement about a range of criminal justice reforms (including leading Prez candidates seeking to outdo each other with ambitious reform proposals), and with the mainstream press giving coverage to many important human (and human-interest) stories surrounding the release of prisoners with the implementation of the FIRST STEP Act, it can be all too easy to forget that not everyone sees a need for criminal justice reform and not everyone is excited to see people released from prison.  These pieces caught my eye in recent days as providing useful examples that there are still plenty of folks eager to contend that the right people are in prison and the wrong people are getting out:

From the City Journal by Rafael Mangual, "Everything You Don’t Know About Mass Incarceration: Contrary to the popular narrative, most American prisoners belong behind bars."

From the Conservative Review by Daniel Horowitz, "Well, well: Criminal justice ‘reform’ wasn’t about ‘non-violent’ offenders after all"

From Fox News by Gregg Re, "Exclusive: Violent criminals and sex offenders released early due to 'First Step Act' legislation"

Some of these pieces are more responsible than others (e.g., the Fox News piece is particularly ugly for making much of the fact that all types of prisoners got the benefit of the "good time fix" that became effective last week). But all of these pieces highlight the kind of rhetoric and reasoning that it seems will be an inevitably enduring part of criminal justice conversations.

UPDATE: I have now seen these two notable responses to the last of the pieces noted above:

From Reason by C.J. Ciaramella, "Tucker Carlson's Unhinged Rant Against Prison Reform Makes Us All Dumber: Carlson claims the law 'allowed hundreds of violent criminals' back on the street. Here's what he didn't tell you."

From the Washington Examiner by Derek Cohen, "Tucker Carlson and John Kennedy get the First Step Act all wrong"

July 24, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

All the real stories fit to print about the real challenges of criminal justice reform

The New York Times has been giving sustained attention to criminal justice reform stories of late, and these two recent piece especially caught my attention:

July 21, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

US House Subcommittee hearing spotlights "Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System"

Last week, as noted over at my marijuana blog, the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary of the US House of Representatives conducted a notable hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."   This week, that subcommittee continue to spotlight the need for criminal justice reform through a hearing this morning titled "Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System."  This ABC News piece, headlined "House Judiciary subcommittee meets on growing population of women behind bars," provides a an effective summary of parts of the hearing, and here are excerpts:

Like 80% of women incarcerated in the U.S., Cynthia Shank was a mother when she went to prison.  Shank was pregnant when she was indicted and like many incarcerated women, she served time for nonviolent offenses -- in her case, she was sentenced to 15-years for federal conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend.  Nearly 150,000 women are pregnant when they are admitted into prison.

Shank, along with other prison reform advocates, appeared in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee for a hearing on women in the criminal justice system to discuss ways to make sure women are not overlooked in the conversation on criminal justice reform.  "Prison destroyed my small young family," Shank said.  "Prison is set up to separate and destroy bonds."...

Piper Kerman, author of the novel turned Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," also shared what her experience was like while imprisoned and why there needs to be a shift in policy to directly impact the growing number of women in prison.  "Policies, not crime, drive incarceration," Kerman said.

Women are now the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population and initiatives to slow and even reverse the growth of the prison population have had disproportionately less effect on women, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.  The total number of men incarcerated in state prisons fell more than 5% between 2009 and 2015, while the number of women in state prisons fell only a fraction of a percent, 0.29% "In a number of states, women's prison populations are growing faster than men's, and in others, they are going up while men's are actually declining," said Aleks Kajstura, legal director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The war on drugs is what many of the panelists and lawmakers pointed to as part of the reason there are such high rates of women incarcerated.  "Much of the growth of women in prisons can be attributed to the war on drugs," said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the Washington legislative office for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Addressing this unfair issue is important because the war on drugs appears to be a large driver of the incarceration rates of women, as illustrated by the fact that the proportion of women in prison for a drug offense has increased from 12% in 1986 to 25% in more recent years." Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said.

An estimated 61% of women are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, according to The Sentencing Project.  McCurdy touched on what many women, including Shank, fall victim to in the criminal justice system -- conspiracy charges as they relate to a significant other, also known as the "Girlfriend problem."

"You don't have to necessarily have dealt drugs, you have to have some role in a conspiracy and that role is very little," McCurdy said. "You can pick up the phone in your house that you live in with your partner and that's enough to implicate you in a conspiracy."

Family trauma was also a major focal point of the hearing, as lawmakers turned to the panel to seek their insight on the best ways to address the trauma of family separation. Shank told the subcommittee members that while she was incarcerated in a federal prison in Florida, she was only able to see her children once a year and that her children would beg her not to hang up the phone when they spoke.  "I'm an adult, I accepted the consequences of my sentencing, but my children were the innocent victims of this," Shank said.

The committee also spent time discussing the relationship between male prison guards and female inmates, with both Shank and Kerman saying that there needs to be more attention on the safety of women who are behind bars with male guards. "I never felt safe changing," Shank said.  "Guards know your schedule, and if they want to single you out they will."

Panelists were also asked to speak on the need of bail reform for women behind bars, as 1 in 4 women who are incarcerated have not been convicted and over 60% of women who could not make bail are parents of minor children, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.  Kerman said that there needs to be primary care consideration in the courts that require judges to consider the impact on families in both pre-trial hearings and sentencing.

"Women will no longer be overlooked in the criminal justice conversation," Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said. "We must have an overall approach to criminal justice reform that specifically considers women.

The full two-hour+ hearing, along with the written testimony submitted by the official witnesses, can all be found at this official webpage.  And Piper Kerman's written testimony has a first footnote that provides this statistical basis for heightened concerns about the modern treatment of women and girls in the criminal justice system: "Since 1978, women’s state prison populations have grown 834%, while men’s state prison populations have grown 367%."

July 16, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Torture and Respect"

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

There are two well-worn arguments against a severe punishment like long-term incarceration: it is disproportionate to the offender’s wrongdoing and an inefficient use of state resources.  This Article considers a third response, one which penal reformers and theorists have radically neglected, even though it is recognized in the law: the punishment is degrading.  In considering penal degradation, this Article examines what judges and scholars have deemed the exemplar of degrading treatment — torture.  What is torture, and why is it wrong to torture people?  If we can answer this question, this Article maintains, then we can understand when and why certain punishments — like perhaps long-term incarceration — are impermissibly degrading, regardless of their proportionality or social utility otherwise.

This Article develops an original theory of torture.  It argues that torture is the intentional infliction of a suffusive panic and that its central wrongness is the extreme disrespect it demonstrates toward a victim’s capacity to realize value. Humans realize value diachronically, stitching moments together through time to construct a good life as a whole. Torture takes such a being, one with a past and a future, and via the infliction of a make it stop right now panic, converts her into a “shrilly squealing piglet at slaughter,” in Jean Améry’s words, restricting her awareness to a maximally terrible present.

The Article then considers what this theory of torture means for our understanding of degradation more generally.  It argues that punishment is impermissibly degrading, regardless of our other penal considerations, when it rejects an offender’s status as a human.  Punishment reaches this threshold by demonstrating that the offender’s life-building capacity — the very basis of his humanity — is completely absent or fundamentally worthless.  To so thoroughly deny someone’s value, even someone who has committed a heinous crime, violates the liberal commitment to human inviolability.  The Article closes by suggesting that long-term incarceration rejects an offender’s status as a human, and is therefore on a par with penal torture, given that removing someone from free society for decades makes it exceedingly difficult for him to construct a good life as a whole.

July 14, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Compassionate Release Training in DC (and online) next week

This NACDL tweet flags an important training opportunity taking place in DC and online next week for folks interested in getting in on some of the most exciting legal change brought about by the FIRST STEP Act.  Here is an image with the details:

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If that image does not do the trick, here is the text of a tweet from Mary Price of FAMM with the essentials:  "Calling all pro bono lawyers!  Want to learn how to help prisoners seeking Compassionate Release? We are training (live and by webinar) on Monday, July 15!  RSVP to agprobono @ akingump.com"

July 10, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

More coverage prisoner reentry issues as FIRST STEP Act's "good time" fix approaches

Prior FIRST STEP Act implementation posts (linked below) noted the delayed application of the Act's "good time" fix, which provides that well-behaved prisoners now get a full 15% credit for good behavior amounting to up to 54 days (not just 47 days) per year in "good time."   And in this post last month, I noted press coverage and efforts surrounding this "good time" fix as it gets closer to kicking in this month (assuming the Attorney General complies with a key deadline in the Act).  This press coverage continues with this Fox News piece headlined "Thousands of ex-prisoners to reunite with their families this month as part of First Step Act," and here are excerpts therefrom:

More than 2,200 federal inmates are returning to their families this month from behind bars under the bipartisan prison reform bill President Trump signed into law last year, according to policy experts and prisoner advocates involved in the effort.

This month will see the largest group to be freed so far under a clause in the First Step Act that reduces sentences due to "earned good time."  In addition to family reunification, the formerly incarcerated citizens, 90 percent of whom have been African-American, hope to get employment opportunities touted by Trump last month at the White House as part of the "Second Chance" hiring program.

"We’re a nation that believes in redemption," the president said, noting Americans with criminal backgrounds are unemployed at rates up to five times the national average, which was around 3.8 percent earlier this year. "You're gonna have an incredible future."

The Trump Administration has asked the private sector to help the ex-prisoners reacclimate to their newfound freedom with jobs and housing in one of the largest criminal justice public-private-partnerships ever assembled.

Kim Kardashian West, who successfully lobbied President Trump to free Alice Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence convicted of drug trafficking for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, announced a partnership with rideshare organization Lyft to hand out gift cards for reformed criminals to get to and from job interviews as transportation can be a barrier. "I just want to thank the president for really standing behind this issue and seeing the compassion that he's had for criminal justice has been really remarkable," the "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star said during a Second Chance Hiring and Re-entry event at the White House in June....

Matthew Charles, the first inmate released from the program and recognized by Trump for being a “model citizen,” told “America’s Newsroom” barriers to employment and housing need to be “eliminated” so former inmates don’t find themselves back in prison.  The Trump Administration has a broad amount of support across governmental departments from labor to DOJ to DOE, as well as governors across the country streamlining state services in order to reduce the barriers Charles mentioned.

This article seems to imply that ninety percent of those who will be released from prison soon thanks to the "good time" fix are African-American, but that racial statistic actually relates to the distinct group of prisoners who have received reductions in their crack sentences due to a different provision in the FIRST STEP Act.  The group getting relief thanks to the operation of the "good time" fix later this month is likely to be more closely representative of the entire federal prison population (which is, very roughly speaking, about 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Latino).  And, as noted in another recent press article, a good number of non-citizen offenders will be deported upon their release from prison.

Prior related posts:

July 9, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 08, 2019

A critical perspective on the Lone Star State's experiences with criminal justice reform

A few months ago, as noted in this post, Marie Gottschalk had published a critical review of the achievements of the federal FIRST STEP Act.  Now, in this notable new commentary in The Baffler about the Texas experience with criminal justice reform, she provides a critical perspective on how little has changed in a big state that seems to get a lot of reform credit.  The extended piece is headlined "The Prisoner Dilemma: Texas fails to confront mass incarceration," and here are some excerpts:

The origin story of the latter-day turnaround in Texas’s criminal justice system dates back to 2007, when legislators decided against spending an estimated $2 billion on new prison construction to accommodate projections that the state would need an additional seventeen thousand prison beds by 2012.  Instead, they enacted some modest changes in probation and parole to redirect people to community supervision; they also restored some funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment.  The attempt to slow down prison construction was, in fact, a big change from the post-Ruiz era, when the state attempted to build its way out of the overcrowding problem.  And yet, even though Texas was required to face up to certain realities — first by the Ruiz case and later by budget constraints — the Texas penal system, after all these years, has not really changed its stripes.

For all the hype, Texas remains “more or less the epicenter of mass incarceration on the planet,” according to Scott Henson, author of Grits for Breakfast, the indispensable blog on criminal justice and law enforcement in Texas.  Other states have far surpassed Texas in reducing the size of their incarcerated populations and in providing safer and more humane lock-ups that are not such blatant affronts to the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Texas today incarcerates nearly one-quarter of a million people in its jails and prisons — more than the total number of prisoners in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom combined.  If Texas were a country, its incarceration rate would be seventh in the world, surpassed only by Oklahoma and five other Southern states.  Texas still operates some of the meanest and leanest prisons and jails in the country. Two meals a day on weekends during budget shortfalls.  Cellblocks without air-conditioning, fans, or even enough water to drink in triple-digit heat. Understaffed, overwhelmed, and unsafe lock-ups in isolated rural areas.

All the applause that Texas received for the prisons it did not build and the handful of prisons it closed has overshadowed the fact that the Lone Star State continues to be one of the most punitive in the country.  If you add the number of people in prison and jails to those on probation, parole, or some other form of community supervision in Texas, that quarter of a million number grows to about seven hundred thousand. This amounts to about one out of every twenty-five adults in the state.  That’s enough to fill a city the size of El Paso.

Between 2007 and 2018, the total number of people held in state prisons and county jails in Texas did fall somewhat — by about 6 percent. But while the number of incarcerated men in Texas prisons and jails has inched downward, the number of incarcerated women has continued to grow.  The state’s female incarceration rate ranks fifteenth nationwide.

Texas has yet to enact any landmark criminal justice reform legislation that would truly scale back the number of people in prisons and jails.  Meanwhile, it has created hundreds of new crimes and dozens of enhanced penalties. Unlike many other states, Texas has yet to reduce the penalties for even low-level drug crimes.  Last year, the number of new felony cases filed in Texas reached a near all-time high, “driven primarily by an increase in drug possession cases,” according to the annual report of the Texas Judiciary.

July 8, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 05, 2019

"The rapid expansion of the US prison population since the 1970s might have contributed substantially to the ongoing increase in overdose deaths"

The quote in the title of this post is a line from this notable new Lancet Public Health study titled "Economic decline, incarceration, and mortality from drug use disorders in the USA between 1983 and 2014: an observational analysis."  This new study, authored by Elias Nosrati, Jacob Kang-Brown, Michael Ash, Martin McKee, Michael Marmot and Lawrence King, starts with this summary:

Background Drug use disorders are an increasing cause of disability and early death in the USA, with substantial geographical variation.  We aimed to investigate the associations between economic decline, incarceration rates, and age-standardised mortality from drug use disorders at the county level in the USA.

Methods In this observational analysis, we examined age-standardised mortality data from the US National Vital Statistics System and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, household income data from the US Census Bureau, and county-level jail and prison incarceration data from the Vera Institute of Justice for 2640 US counties between 1983 and 2014.  We also extracted data on county-level control variables from the US Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  We used a two-way fixed-effects panel regression to examine the association between reduced household income, incarceration, and mortality from drug use disorders within counties over time.  To assess between-county variation, we used coarsened exact matching and a simulation-based modelling approach.

Findings After adjusting for key confounders, each 1 SD decrease in median household income was associated with an increase of 12·8% (95% CI 11·0–14·6; p<0·0001) in drug-related deaths within counties.  Each 1 SD increase in jail and prison incarceration rates was associated with an increase of 1·5% (95% CI 1·0–2·0; p<0·0001) and 2·6% (2·1–3·1; p<0·0001) in drug-related mortality, respectively.  The association between drug-related mortality and income and incarceration persisted after controlling for local opioid prescription rates.  Our model accounts for a large proportion of within-county variation in mortality from drug use disorders (R²=0·975).  Between counties, high rates of incarceration were associated with a more than 50% increase in drug-related deaths.

Interpretation Reduced household income and high incarceration rates are associated with poor health. T he rapid expansion of the prison and jail population in the USA over the past four decades might have contributed to the increasing number of deaths from drug use disorders.

UPDATE: I see now that this journal issue also has this related editorial titled "US mass incarceration damages health and shortens lives." Here is an excerpt:

The findings of this study support a plausible case that mass incarceration has added to the damaging effects of economic decline in increasing drug use and mortality. Incarceration can lead to drug addiction and death by feeding feelings of stigmatisation, by entrenching poor economic prospects, by breaking up families and communities, and by worsening individual mental health.

Over the past 40 years, US politicians of all stripes have sought to appear tough on crime, which has led to an over-reliance on incarceration across many types of offences and damaged public health.  Drastic changes to the justice system will be needed to seriously reduce the prison population.  Legislators need to repeal regressive sentencing laws that inflate the use of imprisonment (such as the three strikes law) and allow judges to pass sentences that are proportional to the crime.  Discriminatory policies and those that unfairly pull the poor into incarceration — such as money bail, plea bargaining, and arrests for crimes of poverty — must also be addressed.  Finally, chronic substance abuse should be confronted with treatment, not criminalisation.  As Natasa Gisev and colleagues' study shows, also in this issue, consistent opioid agonist treatment can reduce criminal involvement.  Drug misuse is a public health issue; more than a criminal one, and like many other petty crimes, it would be more effectively addressed by investment in social and community services, and not in steel bars.

July 5, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, June 28, 2019

"Plus a Life Sentence? Incarceration’s Effects on Expected Lifetime Wage Growth"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new empirical paper available via SSRN and authored by two economists, Theodore S. Corwin III and Daniel K. N. Johnson. Here is its abstract:

The United States incarcerates citizens at rates higher than those of any other developed nation, with impacts on not only government budgets but economic growth rates.  Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth for 1997, we model the effects of incarceration on wage growth rates using inverse probability weighted regression adjusted (IPWRA) propensity score matching to recognize the selection bias among the members of the sample who serve prison terms.  Results show that incarceration reduces average lifetime income growth by one-third even for a relatively short earning period, with that depth depending on length of sentence, employment history, and education level in some surprising ways.

June 28, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Sentencing Project reports one of every 15 women in prison (nearly 7,000) serving life or virtual life sentence

Via email I received this morning this fact sheet from The Sentencing Project titled "Women and Girls Serving Life Sentences" (which lead me to see that, a few weeks ago, it also release this related fact sheet titled "Incarcerated Women and Girls"). Here is the start of this latest publication:

Nationwide one of every 15 women in prison — nearly 7,000 women — is serving a life or virtual life sentence.  One-third of them have no chance for parole, so their prospects for release are highly improbable.  The number of women serving life sentences has grown dramatically despite declining rates of violent crime among women.

As is the case with imprisonment generally, men comprise the overwhelming proportion of people in prison for life; 97% of lifers are men.  At the same time, the number of women serving life sentences is rising more quickly than it is for men.  The Sentencing Project collected life-imprisonment figures by gender in 2008 and 2016. W e find that during this nine-year period the number of women serving life sentences increased by 20%, compared to a 15% increase for men.

The rise in life imprisonment among women has also been far more rapid than the overall prison population increase among women for violent offenses.  Between 2008 and 2016 there was a 2% increase in the number of imprisoned women for a violent crime, but a 20% increase in the number of women serving a life sentence.  When analysis is limited to life-without-parole sentences, we see that the number of women serving these sentences increased by 41% compared to 29% for men.

June 26, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Confined and Costly: How Supervision Violations Are Filling Prisons and Burdening Budgets"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new dynamic online report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Everyone should check out the link to the report to see the dynamic features built therein, and here is some of the text from the report (with all caps from the original):

Probation and parole are designed to lower prison populations and help people succeed in the community. New data show they are having the opposite effect. Until now, national data regarding the impact of probation violations on prison populations have been unavailable, resulting in a lopsided focus on parole. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center recently engaged corrections and community supervision leaders in 50 states to develop the first complete picture of how probation and parole violations make up states’ prison populations. The analysis revealed a startling reality.

45% OF STATE PRISON ADMISSIONS nationwide are due to violations of probation or parole for new offenses or technical violations.

Technical violations, such as missing appointments with supervision officers or failing drug tests, account for nearly 1/4 OF ALL STATE PRISON ADMISSIONS.

On any given day, 280,000 PEOPLE in prison — nearly 1 IN 4 — are incarcerated as a result of a supervision violation, costing states more than $9.3 BILLION ANNUALLY.

Technical supervision violations account for $2.8 BILLION of this total amount, and new offense supervision violations make up $6.5 BILLION. These figures do not account for the substantial local costs of keeping people in jail for supervision violations.

IN 13 STATES, MORE THAN 1 IN 3 PEOPLE in prison on any given day are there for a supervision violation.

IN 20 STATES, MORE THAN HALF OF PRISON ADMISSIONS are due to supervision violations.

Variation in these proportions across states is shaped by the overall size of each state’s supervision population, how violations are sanctioned, whether those sanctions are the result of incarceration paid for by the state or county, and how well state policy and funding enable probation and parole agencies to employ evidence-based practices to improve success on supervision.

June 19, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

White House promotes efforts to provide job opportunities for former prisoners

Continuing its energetic criminal justice reform efforts, the White House today held a public event to promote reentry support for former prisoners.  This AP piece provides these (celebrity) highlights:

Reality star-turned-criminal justice reform advocate Kim Kardashian West returned to the White House on Thursday to help President Donald Trump promote efforts to help those leaving prison get jobs and stay on track.

At an East Room event attended by Cabinet secretaries, activist and formerly incarcerated people, Kardashian West announced the creation of a new ride-sharing partnership that will give former prisoners gift cards to help them get to and from job interviews, work and family events....

Trump pronounced himself a fan of Kardashian West’s advocacy, praising her genes and declaring, “I guess she’s pretty popular.” And he marveled at the passage of the First Step Act, which he signed into law late last year....

The White House has since been working with various companies, advocacy groups and federal agencies to try to give prisoners released early the tools and jobs they need to successfully adjust to life outside prison so they don’t wind up behind bars again....

Trump has embraced the efforts originally pushed by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to make changes to the criminal justice system, using them to highlight the low unemployment rate and paint himself as a president focused “on lifting up all Americans.”  It’s a deeply personal issue for Kushner, whose father spent time in federal prison when he was younger.

In addition to the ride share vouchers, Trump announced several other measures, including stepped-up efforts by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to work with businesses to help line up jobs for those being released and additional funds for states to support companies that hire former inmates.  He said his administration hopes to cut the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people to single digits within five years.  “Now we much make sure that the Americans returning from prison get a true second chance,” he said.

In addition, the White House has released the following fact sheet and remarks:

June 13, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Is ‘Abolish Prisons’ the Next Frontier in Criminal Justice?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this effective Bloomberg commentary authored by Bill Keller.  Here are excerpts:

Five years ago, when the activist and cable TV host Van Jones launched the #cut50 campaign to reduce U.S. prison populations by half, many mainstream justice reform watchers rolled their eyes at what seemed to be a reckless overreach.... Now the campaign has attracted an A-list of celebrities, philanthropists and candidates pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination. These days, when Jones gets pilloried, it’s as likely to be for being too compromising: Why stop short of #cut100?

People who follow criminal justice policy for a living say the fastest growing subset of the reform movement consists of abolitionists who say a system that is inherently racist and based on retribution should be pulled up by the roots. Not just prisons and jails, but most of the institutions of law enforcement and criminal justice.

“Abolition has become a rallying cry for the progressive wing of the justice reform movement,” Jeremy Travis told me. “NO NEW JAILS. NO MORE MONEY FOR POLICE. ABOLISH ICE. ABOLISH PRISONS.” Travis, who oversees criminal justice issues for the Arnold Ventures philanthropy, has spent a career in the system, most recently as president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. (Disclosure: Laura and John Arnold, the founders of Arnold Ventures, are donors to the Marshall Project, my former employer.) “There is lots of energy behind this reframing of the ‘reform’ agenda,” Travis said.

Prison abolition has decades of antecedents, led by once-fringe figures like Angela Davis, the 1960s communist firebrand, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the subject in April of a sympathetic profile in the New York Times Magazine. More recently abolition has been embraced by younger Americans who grew up after violent crime peaked in the early 1990s, and has helped kindle some fundamental rethinking in the mainstream.

Like other radical ideas — Medicare for All, the Green New Deal — abolition means different things to different people. Most of those who rally to the cause do not advocate a world where no one answers your 911 call and serial killers are set loose. Abolition is an ideal — like, say, “repeal and replace.” The real debate is what should replace the current institutions.

“There is always going to be some role for prisons, but maybe 10 percent of what we do now,” said Martin Horn, a former New York State parole director, now a professor at John Jay. “I think we need police. We may not need as many as we now have, and we want to use them differently.”

Abolitionists generally start the conversation with two immense objectives. The first is devolving responsibility for public safety to local communities. (“Civilianizing safety,” some experts call it.) One reason New York City has reduced its crime rate while simultaneously slashing arrests, incarceration and law-enforcement overreach is that the city has a nonprofit network on the ground, some of it subsidized by the city, to combat violence and to help the formerly incarcerated safely reenter society.

Abolitionists’ other aim is to redistribute government spending from police and prisons to narrowing the underlying, crime-breeding inequalities of wealth and opportunity. They would instead invest in housing, education, jobs and health — a goal that seems remote in the current political environment.

What is new, says Elizabeth Glazer, director of New York City’s criminal justice office, is that many of the ideas that animate the abolitionists “are now finding their way into established criminal justice structures” — not just scholars and activists but also prosecutors questioning what crimes should be prosecuted and judges seeking out-of-court remedies....

To reformists who work in or with the system, the abolitionists can be exasperating — a case of the ideal being the enemy of the good. DeAnna Hoskins, president of JustLeadershipUSA, which mobilizes former prisoners to press for reform, points to the campaign that persuaded New York to close the jail complex on Rikers Island. The plan depends on building smaller, more humane jails in four boroughs to house a much-reduced population of prisoners. Along with the inevitable resistance of prospective new neighbors, the city now faces vocal opposition from abolitionists who object to any new jails on principle. “That’s just not realistic,” Hoskins said. “We’re not going to close Rikers on Monday and not have any type of detainment.” She added, “When we talk about abolishing prisons and abolishing law enforcement, it’s actually reducing the power and the reach of those entities.”

One of the liveliest abolition debates concerns parole and probation, which get less attention than incarceration but regulate the lives of 4.5 million Americans, twice as many as are confined in prisons and jails. Because a parolee can be returned to prison for a technical infraction such as a missed appointment or a trace of drugs in a urine sample, the parole-to-prison pipeline is a major feeder of mass incarceration....

Although polling is scarce, it’s a fair bet that “abolition” is not a voter magnet. The electorate may want the system to be less cruel and more rehabilitative, but voters also want a professional answering that 911 call when their kid gets shot — and not a member of neighborhood watch. The bipartisan coalition that has found common ground on criminal justice would be severely strained by such a lurch to the left. The conservative attack ads write themselves.

But in recent years, with crime near historic lows, the iniquities and unintended consequences of American punishment have so captured public concern that even President Donald Trump coughs up an occasional platitude about “giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption.”

There is a place for higher aspirations, if only to keep moving the middle. Closing Rikers was a radical idea, until it wasn’t. The #cut50 campaign was mocked as unrealistic until people realized that it was essentially restoring incarceration to 1980s levels.  “I don’t think that in my lifetime we’ll ever abolish prisons, but it’s a really important question, why we put people in prisons,” said Travis, adding that the abolition debate is “a healthy tension that is really challenging the pace of reform and the status quo.”

A few prior related posts:

June 13, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Bail and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Samuel Wiseman.  Here is its abstract:

It is widely known that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world, and the causes and ramifications of mass incarceration are the subject of intense study.  It is also increasingly widely recognized that the high rates of pretrial detention, often linked to the use of money bail, are unjust, expensive, and often counterproductive.  But, so far, the links between money bail, pretrial detention, and mass incarceration have been largely unexplored.  Our criminal justice system relies primarily on plea bargains to secure convictions at a relatively low cost.  And, as shown by recent empirical work, the bail system, which results in high pretrial detention rates for indigent defendants, plays a significant role in incentivizing quick pleas, and leads to more convictions and longer sentences.

Releasing more defendants pretrial would generate more pretrial motions, lengthier plea negotiations, and more trials, and would thus raise the cost — in the form of prosecutors, public defenders, and judges — of convictions and imprisonment.  In other words, if we release significantly more defendants pretrial, we will have to either spend more on criminal justice or convict fewer people and punish them less severely.  In addition to inducing quick, inexpensive guilty pleas from defendants unable to post bond, money bail also plays a more subtle role in sustaining high incarceration rates.  Money bail, by its very nature, discriminates based on wealth, and thus provides a built-in sorting mechanism — politically weak low-income defendants are pushed into the quick-plea process, while wealthier defendants are able to obtain release and the increased access to more robust process that it affords.  If politically better-represented wealthy and middle-class defendants were detained, and thus subjected to at least some of the same pressures to plead guilty as indigent defendants, there would, in all likelihood, be more demand for reform.

This Article explores the role of bail in mass incarceration, concluding that opponents of mass incarceration should pay increased attention to the pretrial process as a locus of reform.  Relatedly, it analyzes the likely impact of the bail–plea bargain link on future bail reform — which, of course, serves important interests beyond reducing the prison population, such as fairness and the avoidance of wrongful convictions.

June 11, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Educating everyone about the value of educating prisoners

I have noticed in the last few days and weeks a number of commentaries making the case for ensuring prisoners have access to educational opportunities while behind bars and explaining why Pell grants should be one way to help do so.  I recommend all of these pieces in full, and here I will just be content with a round up of headlines and links:

In addition, this local article from Utah -- headlined "Even violent inmates get out. Here’s why Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee and others think they should have access to college courses in prison." -- highlights why at least one notable Senator is eager to get prisoners access to Pell grants.

June 11, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Spotlighting the enduring business of jails

Keith Humphreys has this notable new Washington Post piece headlined "How jails stay full even as crime falls."  Here are excerpts:

Crime has fallen dramatically in recent decades.  The number of people in jail for committing crimes hasn’t.

New Bureau of Justice Statistics data reveal that jails held 745,200 inmates in 2017, virtually identical to the 747,500 they held in 2005, and significantly higher than the 584,400 they held in 1998.  How does the correctional system keep jails full when there just aren’t as many crimes as there used to be?  By locking up an increasing number of people who are awaiting trial and could well be innocent.

The number of individuals held in jail while awaiting trial has soared 45.3 percent, from 331,800 in 1998 to 482,000 in 2017.  By contrast, the number of convicted inmates is almost the same as it was 20 years ago (252,600 in 1998 vs. 263,200 in 2017).  About 95 percent of the jail population’s growth is thus accounted for by people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

By jailing more and more people who are awaiting trial, the criminal justice system can keep jails full no matter how much crime falls.  This may be seen as a good thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who work in jails, the companies that supply services to jails (i.e., food), and the communities that value correctional facilities as a form of economic stimulus.  But it’s a world-class bug from the point of view of innocent people who are jailed while awaiting trial, not to mention taxpayers.

Given the internal incentives to keep jails full, change will have to come from outside the criminal justice system.  The most obvious lever available, which is picking up steam in multiple states, is bail reform.  States could simply mandate that individuals accused of low-level crimes are automatically released on their own recognizance before trial. Jurisdictions that have experimented with this approach have found rates of appearing at trial in excess of 98 percent....

States, cities and counties should also consider closing or at least downsizing jails.  If the system is going to find ways to keep every bed full regardless of the crime rate, cutting the number of beds available may be the only way to prevent an increasing number of people accused of crimes from being punished as harshly as those who are actually convicted.

June 6, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Making the case, now a quarter century after the 1994 Crime Bill, for the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act

Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Inimai Chettiar, who helped draft of the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act back in 2015 (first discussed here), have this new New York Daily News commentary making the case for this approach to prison reform under the headline "Joe Biden, Cory Booker, the 1994 Crime Bill and the future: How to unwind American mass incarceration."  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

As the 2020 field of candidates gets more crowded, Democrats have started weaponizing one of the most influential pieces of criminal justice legislation in the last 50 years — the 1994 Crime Bill.  Joe Biden, a key author of the bill when he served in the Senate, has doubled down, while his primary opponents correctly point to how it helped contribute to mass incarceration.

The debate is important, but an exclusive focus on the past underplays a crucial question: Moving forward, how will the country end mass incarceration that decades of federal funding helped create?  And what are presidential candidates’ plans to reverse failed policies?

The size of the U.S. prison system is unparalleled.  If each state were its own country, 23 states would have the highest incarceration rates in the world.  People of color are vastly overrepresented. African Americans make up 13% of the country’s population but almost 40% of the nation’s prisoners.

In response, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), along with Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), have just reintroduced the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act.  The bill, which they first introduced last Congress, provides financial incentives to states (which house 88% of America’s prison population) to reduce imprisonment rates.  It starts to unwind the web of perverse incentives set in motion by the Crime Bill and other laws.

To receive federal funding awards under the Act, states must reduce the imprisonment rate by 7% every three years and keep crime at current record lows.  States can choose their own path to achieve those goals, since the legislation sets targets instead of dictating policy....

The federal government has a long history of using federal funds to shape the criminal justice landscape.  For example, a bill passed in 1968 — amid concerns over rising crime rates — set up grant programs that allocated money to states to be used for any purpose associated with reducing crime.  Over two years, it authorized $400 million (roughly $2.7 billion in today’s dollars) in grants.  Two decades later, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 played a central role in government policy in the War on Drugs by reinstating mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, establishing $230 million (nearly $500 million today) in grants to fund drug enforcement while not permitting funding of drug prevention programs.

The 1994 Crime Bill extended that trend. It promised $8 billion ($13 billion in today’s dollars) to states if they adopted “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which required incarcerated individuals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.  A study by the Urban Institute found that between 1995 and 1999, nine states adopted truth-in-sentencing laws for the first time, and 15 states reported the Crime Bill was a key or partial factor in changing their truth-in-sentencing laws.  By 1999, a total of 42 states had such laws on the books....

Over the past decade, states have taken steps to move away from harsh sentencing laws. And Congress has made reforms to sentencing at the federal level, including the FIRST STEP Act, passed last year.

Certainly, one piece of federal legislation alone will not end mass incarceration, just as the 1994 Crime Bill was not solely responsible for causing it. Innovative changes at the local level must continue....  But the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act is one of the strongest steps the federal government can take to end mass incarceration.  By providing financial incentives to help power important changes at the local level, it’s a national bill that would help set a tone across the country.  It will encourage states to orient criminal justice strategies across the country toward more just and fair outcomes.

A few prior related posts:

May 23, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Shouldn't it now constitutional problematic for extreme LWOP sentences to be preserved after legislative changes to three-strikes laws?

The question in the title of this post might be directed to some important federal cases in the wake of the FIRST STEP Act.  But this morning the question comes to mind due to this new AP article discussing state sentencing changes not made retroactive in Washington.  The article is headlined "‘3 strikes’ sentencing reform leaves out Washington inmates," and here are the disconcerting details:

A small group of inmates, disproportionately black, are set to stay in Washington state prisons for life — left out of the latest in a multi-year wave of reforms easing tough-on-crime “three strikes” laws around the U.S.

At least 24 states including Washington passed such laws during the 1990s, embracing tough-on-crime rhetoric. But nearly half have since scaled them back amid concern that habitual but less-violent offenders were being stuck behind bars for life with hardcore felons.

Washington’s 1993 three-strikes law was among the first and stands out as among the nation’s strictest. But lawmakers targeted it for reform this year with legislation removing second-degree robbery — generally defined as a robbery without a deadly weapon or significant injury — from the list of crimes qualifying for cumulative life sentences.

But while the original reform included a retroactive clause, making inmates sentenced under the old law eligible for resentencing, an amendment pushed by a prosecutors’ group cut out retroactivity. Washington governor and Democratic presidential contender Jay Inslee signed the changes into law April 29.

That means about 62 inmates convicted of second-degree robbery will be left serving life sentences, according to state records, even after judges stop “striking out” new offenders convicted of the same crimes. About half are black, despite African Americans making up only 4% of Washington’s population.

Under the original bill, the inmates with a robbery “strike” would have had the opportunity to have their life sentences re-examined by judges — but now they won’t. Supporters of the amendment have said even less-serious robberies can leave emotional scars, and that prosecutors might have set aside more serious charges because they knew second-degree robbery convictions would mean life in prison for those offenders.

But inmates among the 62 described frustration that offenders with similar records may face drastically shorter sentences going forward. “It’s just wrong on its face, to make people rot in prison for the rest of their life on a sentence that doesn’t even exist anymore,” said John Letellier, 67, whose 1999 fast food restaurant robbery earned him his third strike.

The push to take out the reform’s retroactivity clause emerged from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a group that represents prosecutors. Russell Brown, the group’s director, said he reviewed most of the cases listing second-degree robbery as the third strike, and believed that prosecutors in many probably refrained from seeking more serious charges because of the guarantee the charge — known in legal circles as “Rob 2” — would count as a third strike. But he acknowledged that he never confirmed his suspicions with any of the prosecutors who handled the cases....

In Washington, second-degree robbery has one of the lowest seriousness levels of any crime on the three-strikes list, hypothetically encompassing anything from demanding money from a clerk to snatching a purse. At least 11 states including Washington have eased their three strikes laws since 2009, often removing property crimes from “strike” lists or restoring discretion to judges over previously mandatory life sentences.

But lawmakers have also often been reluctant to make the three-strikes reforms retroactive: Out of the 11 only California has included such a clause...

In phone and email interviews, inmates among the 62 in Washington described how the reform raised their hopes — and the amendment dashed them. Among them is Devon Laird, age 54 and serving life on a robbery third strike. Convicted of snatching a wallet from an elderly man outside a drugstore in 2007, Laird’s court records include convictions for violent crimes in his early 20s, but also testimony portraying him as attempting to escape a past that included being stabbed at 14 and shot twice before age 21. “When they said it wasn’t retroactive, it really set in on me that, man, I got life,” said Laird.

Cheryl Lidel, 60, is also serving life for a 2010 robbery after being convicted of other robberies and theft. She described her crimes as driven by substance abuse that began shortly after she was sexually assaulted as a young girl. In charging documents for her third-strike robbery, prosecutors said Lidel was going through heroin withdrawal when she robbed a Subway blocks from a police station, sticking her hand in her pocket to imitate a gun. She then asked a taxi to take her to an area known for drug dealing. “The first time I came here I was 23 years old, and in March of this year I turned 60,” Lidel said.

While it’s hard to say exactly how much time any of the 62 would have faced without their robbery charges counting as strikes, few would have faced life.... According to state guidelines, the maximum for second-degree robbery, given to the highest-level offenders, is less than seven years....

Some of the 62 might not have received shorter sentences because of other serious crimes on their record, including at least eight with early robbery convictions but a final strike for murder. But nearly half the inmates on the list received a third strike only for some form of robbery.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeannie Darneille, said before the state’s legislative session ended that she did not want to change her bill with the amendment killing retroactivity but that it would have been at risk of failing without support from law enforcement or prosecutors because lawmakers would have feared being labeled soft on crime.

The particulars of this story are all too familiar, and long-time readers know that I have long argued that the standard presumption in favor of finality for criminal judgments need not and should not be elevated over other critical criminal justice interests when a defendant seeks only to modify an ongoing prison sentence based on new legal developments.  (My full perspectives on "sentence finality" and retroactivity appear in a law review article, "Re-Balancing Fitness, Fairness, and Finality for Sentences", and in some prior posts reprinted below).   

Moreover, as the question in the title of this post highlights, I think these issues have constitutional implications when extreme sentences are in play.  Notably, many state courts have ruled that it would be unconstitutional to carry out a death sentence for a person long ago sentenced for murder after a state legislature prospectively abolished the death penalty.  Given that the Supreme Court has in the last decade applied my capital Eighth Amendment precedents to the application of LWOP sentences, it seems reasonable to argue that state courts should find it unconstitutional to not reconsider an extreme LWOP sentence for a person long ago sentenced to LWOP on a basis that a state legislature has prospectively abolished.

(Significantly, and in response to the concerns so often raised by prosecutors in this retroactivity setting, a narrow version of the constitutional claim here might be just that a past LWOP sentence needs to be reexamined, not automatically changed.  Under such an approach, prosecutors would be able to argue against a sentence change by bringing forward evidence that the defendant could and would have gotten an LWOP sentence on grounds other than those changed by the legislature.  But at the very least, I think the constitutional norm should be reexamination of now-changed sentences, rather than their harsh preservation. )

Some (of many) prior posts on sentencing finality:

May 21, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Recent Harvard Law Review issue covers prison abolition

I managed to miss that the Development in the Law section of the April issue of the Harvard Law Review examined prison abolition from multiple angles.  Here are titles and links to the articles:

May 13, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Next Steps in Federal Corrections Reform: Implementing and Building on the First Step Act"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new Urban Institute issue brief authored by Julie Samuels, Nancy La Vigne and Chelsea Thomson.  This webpage provides this abstract:

Advocates and legislators across the political spectrum celebrated the passage of the First Step Act in December of 2018, the first large federal prison reform bill in nearly a decade.  This research brief reviews key measures in First Step, describes the actions and oversight needed for faithful and vigorous implementation of the act, and highlights some of the law’s limitations.  Working from the original set of recommendations made by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, we then describe additional measures that represent the next logical — and evidence-based — steps in federal corrections reform.  These steps include expanding eligibility for earned time credits, making all sentencing provisions retroactive, further reducing mandatory minimum penalties, and creating a second look provision for people serving extremely long sentences to petition the court for sentence reductions.

May 12, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

"Does our county really need a bigger jail?"

Pretrial_detention_growth450x337The question in the title of this post is the title of a new Prison Policy Initiative report that seeks to provide cities and counties with a guide for preventing unnecessary jail expansion.  This press release about the report reviews the essentials (and provides a link):

The report, Does our county really need a bigger jail?, lays out 33 questions that local decision-makers should ask in evaluating proposals for new or bigger jails.  “It’s very common today for jails to be overcrowded, because the number of people in jails nationwide has tripled in the last 30 years,” said report author Alexi Jones. “But in too many counties, jail growth is rooted in known policy failures like an overreliance on money bail. Local policymakers owe it to their constituents to find out if there is a better fix to overcrowding than just building a new or bigger jail.”

The report’s 33 questions for policymakers include:

  • On a typical day, how many people are confined in the existing jail who have not been convicted?
  • How many people in the county are incarcerated because they cannot afford to pay fines and fees?
  • What specialized “diversion” courts and treatment programs is the county using to divert people struggling with substance use and mental illness into more effective treatments than jail?
  • Do official cost estimates for building new jail space include not only the cost of construction, but the cost of debt service on the loan, annual operation costs, and collateral costs such as adverse impacts on public health?

“Building new jail space typically costs tens of millions of dollars or more, even as other options that are both more cost-effective and more compassionate are ignored,” said Jones. “If policymakers can’t answer these questions about why more jail space is necessary, they should not be undertaking jail expansion.”

For all 33 questions, the report also offers a set of alternatives and best practices, including:

  • Releasing more pretrial defendants on their own recognizance, and investing in pretrial services to help them make their court dates;
  • Requiring judges to set fines and fees based on a defendant’s ability to pay;
  • Investing in specialized “problem-solving” courts for people with mental health or substance use disorders that serve as true alternatives to jail time.

The report’s recommendations are accompanied by helpful graphics, as well as examples of local and state governments successfully implementing alternatives to jail expansion. “We know that the answer to mass incarceration begins at the local level,” said Jones. “That’s why it’s critical to help cities and counties think beyond jail expansion when it comes to improving public safety.”

May 8, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 02, 2019

"Law, Prison, and Double-Double Consciousness: A Phenomenological View of the Black Prisoner’s Experience"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Yale Law Review Forum piece authored by James Davis III. Here is its abstract:

This Essay introduces double-double consciousness as a new way of conceptualizing the psychological ramifications of being a black prisoner.  It begins by revisiting W.E.B. DuBois’s theory of double consciousness.  It then offers a phenomenological exposition of double-double consciousness — the double consciousness that the black prisoner came to prison with, coupled with the double consciousness that the black prisoner develops in prison.  Thought and feeling, time and space are all different in the prison.  This world relentlessly imposes the prisoner identity on all those who inhabit it, requiring them to reconcile their new status with their conceptions of self.  Based on my own experience as a black prisoner, I conclude that double-double consciousness is a mechanism through which the prisoner can maintain dignity despite living in captivity.

May 2, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Terrific vision and plans in "Beyond Guilt," a new project of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center

Cropped-bg_ojpc_gavelI am so very pleased to see the announcement of a great new project by a leading criminal justice reform group in the Buckeye State. Specifically, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) has just launched "Beyond Guilt," which its website says "aims to do for over-punished prisoners who admit guilt what innocence projects have for wrongfully convicted persons who claim actual innocence."  I am especially drawn to the "Strategies" discussion set out in the new project's "Our Mission" statement, which I will quote here:

Beyond Guilt will seek to do for over-punished prisoners who admit guilt what innocence projects have done for wrongfully convicted persons who claim actual innocence.  Beyond Guilt is OJPC’s answer to criminal legal system reform efforts that focus narrowly on a more palatable side of the reform movement — freeing innocent prisoners and people convicted of low-level, non-violent offenses.  Unfortunately, current reform efforts leave many behind, particularly individuals convicted of more serious offenses, including violent crimes. Beyond Guilt will advance reform initiatives to include people who have paid their debt to society for serious crimes and can safely be released.  The project will do so in four ways:

First, Beyond Guilt will identify unfairly sentenced Ohio prisoners who illustrate widespread problems in our criminal legal system (e.g. imposition of life sentences for felony-murder; life without parole sentences for youthful offenders; broken parole systems that refuse to provide a second chance) and then fight for their release.  The project will represent individuals who have served significant portions of their sentences and can demonstrate rehabilitation within the prison walls and who have the skills and support systems on the outside to continue the process of rehabilitation once they are released.  Whenever possible, Beyond Guilt will partner with prosecutors, law enforcement officers and crime survivors who can help convince courts to release prisoners through various avenues.

Second, Beyond Guilt will lift up the stories of the people it represents to humanize these individuals and other prisoners like them whom society writes off for committing violent crimes.  The project will tell their stories through a variety of means, including traditional media, social media, film and a blog hosted on a dedicated Beyond Guilt website.  The project will also facilitate in-person meetings between its incarcerated clients and legislators who can benefit from seeing, face to face, the impact of overly punitive sentencing laws.  The goal is to enable our clients to tell their own stories, to be living breathing testaments to the power of people to change, and to become disciples, who through their stories, can inspire others to care about those that they left behind in prison.

Third, Beyond Guilt will partner with its clients — both those who are freed and those who remain incarcerated — to push for reform of Ohio sentencing laws that overly punish people who have committed serious crimes and parole systems that keep offenders locked up for longer than they need to be.

Fourth, Beyond Guilt will seek to build a national network of similar projects that work to reform sentencing practices for people convicted of violent crimes and to promote evidence-based ways to reduce lengthy sentences without compromising public safety.  Beyond Guilt will partner with law schools and public defender offices to build this network and with community and faith-based groups who work with returning citizens who need assistance once released.

May 1, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"The case for education in prison"

The title of this post is the title of this new Hill commentary authored by Arthur Rizer and Jesse Kelley.  Here is an excerpt:

As a nation, we are in desperate need of qualified workers and running out of places to look for them.  Yet we also have millions of individuals sitting idle in prisons, 95 percent of whom will eventually be released.  Sadly, our justice system has an abysmal record of preparing these individuals for life beyond concrete walls — especially when it comes to helping them enter the job market.  In fact, one year after their release, almost 60 percent of all formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed.

For the lucky few who do find employment, they are paid an average of 40 percent less than those with no criminal record.  These individuals represent a potential pool of untapped resources for employers looking to hire new workers. B ut in order to ensure that the formerly incarcerated are suited for the modern workforce, we need to increase opportunities for them to receive an education while behind bars.  Offering inmates postsecondary correctional education would provide a new world of opportunities for both these individuals and business owners....

Businesses thrive when they hire educated employees.  When employers have the option to hire from a larger pool of well-educated candidates, they can strengthen their productivity and competitiveness.  Investing in potential employees’ educational futures can add to the supply.  By investing in postsecondary correctional education in particular, employers can help meet their own demand for highly skilled employees....

For those formerly incarcerated who are re-entering the workforce, both the routine and the responsibility of employment offer financial support and the ability to build a life removed from past habits that might otherwise lead to reoffending. This is critical, especially considering that although recidivism rates have improved somewhat, they are still alarmingly high: An estimated three-fifths of those released from prison are convicted of a new offense within five years of their release....

By expanding the pool of hirable candidates to include more formerly incarcerated individuals with a postsecondary education, businesses can increase their market competitiveness and support returning citizens.  It is therefore in the business community’s best interest to support post-secondary education in prisons.

April 30, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting that, within top incarceration nation, it is not quite clear which state tops the per capital incarceration list

A helpful reader sent me this notable little local article headlined "Is Louisiana still the incarceration capital of the U.S.?". The piece serves as a useful reminder that data on incarceration (like data on just about everything in criminal justice systems) is subject to some interpretation. Here are excerpts:

For close to a year, Gov. John Bel Edwards has championed that Louisiana has lost its title as the incarceration capital of the United States after law changes he backed got through the Louisiana Legislature in 2017.  “I made a promise that, by the end of my first term, Louisiana would not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation,” Edwards said last June at a press conference.  “We have fulfilled that promise to Louisiana.”

Yet a report released by the Vera Institute of Justice last week [blogged here] called that victory into question.  The nonprofit, a leader in criminal justice research, concluded that Louisiana still had the top of incarceration rate in the country at the end of 2018, five months after the governor announced the state had lost that title to Oklahoma.

The discrepancy appears to be not so much about Louisiana’s prison population, but how prisoners in Oklahoma are counted.  Those who believe Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate count hundreds of people who have been sentenced to prison time -- but are still in county jails and haven’t become part of the prison system officially yet -- as part of that state’s prison population. Without those inmates included in the prison population count, Louisiana still has the highest incarceration rate.

As of the end of December 2018, the number of people waiting to enter the Oklahoma prison system at county jails totaled 753.  If they’re included in the state count, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is 702 people per 100,000 residents, higher than Louisiana’s rate of 695. If they aren’t included, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is 683.

Pew Charitable Trusts and the Edwards administration use the higher Oklahoma count, therefore concluding that Louisiana has fallen to second place. Vera Institute used the lower count. “It seems like right now, the two states are really close . If a statistician was handling this question, they would say something like they are tied,” Jacob Kang-Brown, one of the authors of the Vera Institute report, said in an interview Thursday (April 25)....

Another nonprofit organization, the Prison Policy Initiative, concluded that Oklahoma passed Louisiana as the state with the highest incarceration rate back in 2016, before Louisiana approved its package of criminal justice changes in 2017.  That analysis took a wider view of incarceration. It counted not just state prisoners but also juveniles in custody, people in local jails and people from Louisiana in federal custody.  That report came out last year, prompting the Tulsa World newspaper to declare Oklahoma the prison capital of the country.

April 30, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Seventh Circuit finds Indiana approach to revoking good-time credits in sex offender program violates Fifth Amendment right against compelled self‐incrimination

A panel of the Seventh Circuit a few days ago issued a notable opinion in Lacy v. Butts, No. 17-3256 (7th Cir. April 25, 2019) (available here), which affirmed a lower court ruling that part of Indiana's Sex Offender Management and Monitoring program violates the Constitution. Here is how the court's opinion gets started:

When the state wants to encourage suspects, defendants, or incarcerated offenders to admit guilt, it has many tools at its disposal.  Before or during trial, prosecutors may hold out the prospect of a plea bargain. Judges may reward defendants with a sentence reduction for accepting responsibility.  Prison rehabilitation programs may offer benefits and incentives by conditioning visitation rights, work opportunities, housing in a lower‐security unit, and other privileges on an offender’s willingness to admit responsibility for the crime of conviction. McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 40 (2002).

But the Fifth Amendment draws one sharp line in the sand: no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  U.S. CONST. amend. V. (emphasis added).  This case requires us to decide whether Indiana’s Sex Offender Management and Monitoring (INSOMM) program crosses that line with its system of revoking good time credits and denying the opportunity to earn such credits for convicted sex offenders who refuse to confess their crimes.  In an action brought by a class led by Donald Lacy, an inmate subject to INSOMM, the district court ruled that Indiana’s system as currently operated impermissibly compels self‐incrimination and must be revised.   We affirm.

April 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

BJS releases "Prisoners in 2016" and "Jail Inmates in 2017" reporting notable declines in incarcerated persons

As reported in this press release, "from 2007 to 2017, incarceration rates in both prisons and jails decreased by more than 10%, according to reports released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics." Here is more from the release:

Over a decade, the incarceration rate among state and federal prisoners sentenced to more than a year dropped by 13%, from 506 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2007 to 440 prisoners per 100,000 in 2017. The prison incarceration rate also dropped 2.1% from 2016 to 2017, bringing it to the lowest level since 1997. The jail incarceration rate decreased by 12% from 2007 to 2017, from 259 to 229 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, but did not decline from 2016 to 2017.

The U.S. prison population was 1.5 million prisoners at year-end 2017, and the population of jail inmates in the U.S. was 745,000 at midyear 2017. There were 1.3 million prisoners under state jurisdiction and 183,000 under federal jurisdiction. From the end of 2016 to the end of 2017, the number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction declined by 6,100 (down 3%), while the number of prisoners under state jurisdiction fell by 12,600 (down 1%).

By citizenship status, non-citizens made up roughly the same portion of the U.S. prison population (7.6%) as of the total U.S. population (7.0%, per the U.S. Census Bureau). This is based on prisoners held in the custody of publicly or privately operated state or federal prisons. Among racial groups, the imprisonment rate for sentenced black adults declined by 31% from 2007 to 2017 and by 4% from 2016 to 2017, the largest declines of any racial group.

However, the imprisonment rate for sentenced black males was more than twice the rate for sentenced Hispanic males and almost six times that for sentenced white males (2,336 per 100,000 black males compared to 1,054 per 100,000 Hispanic males and 397 per 100,000 white males). The rate for sentenced black females was almost double that for sentenced white females (92 per 100,000 black females compared to 49 per 100,000 white females).

Among state prisoners sentenced to more than one year, more than half (55%) were serving a sentence for a violent offense at year-end 2016, the most recent year for which state data are available. An estimated 60% of blacks and Hispanics in state prisons were serving a sentence for a violent offense, compared to 48% of whites. At the end of fiscal year 2017, nearly half of all federal prisoners were serving a sentence for drug trafficking.

Privately operated prison facilities held 121,400 prisoners, or 8% of all state and federal prisoners, at year-end 2017. Inmates in these facilities were under the jurisdiction of 27 states and the Bureau of Prisons. The number of federal prisoners held in private facilities decreased by 6,600 from 2016 to 2017 (down 19%).

In 2017, almost two-thirds (482,000) of jail inmates were unconvicted, awaiting court action on a charge, while the rest (263,200) were convicted and either serving a sentence or awaiting sentencing.

The demographic characteristics of persons incarcerated in jails shifted from 2005 to 2017. During this period, the percentage of the jail population that was white increased from 44% to 50%, while the percentage that was black decreased from 39% to 34%. Hispanics accounted for 15% of all jail inmates in 2017, the same as in 2005. Asians accounted for less than 1% of jail inmates in both years. In 2017, the jail incarceration rate for blacks was more than 3 times the rate for whites and Hispanics, and more than 20 times the rate for Asians.

Jails reported 10.6 million admissions in 2017, which represented no change from 2016 but a 19% decline from 13.1 million in 2007. The overall weekly inmate turnover rate was 54% in 2017, while the estimated average time spent in jail before release was 26 days.

The full BJS reports are chock full of additional important data points, and are excitingly titled "Prisoners in 2017" (running 44 pages) and "Jail Inmates in 2017" (running 18 pages).  Especially because I am busy with end-of-semester tasks, I would be grateful to hear from others about any particular data points within these documents that seem especially notable and important.  Helpfully, the Sentencing Project has this release about the data with these interesting observations:

Analysis of the new data by The Sentencing Project reveals that:

  • The United States remains as the world leader in its rate of incarceration, locking up its citizens at 5-10 times the rate of other industrialized nations. At the current rate of decline it will take 75 years to cut the prison population by 50%.
  • The population serving life sentences is now at a record high. One of every seven individuals in prison — 206,000 — is serving life. 
  • Six states have reduced their prison populations by at least 30% over the past two decades — Alaska, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. 
  • The rate of women’s incarceration has been rising at a faster rate than men’s since the 1980s, and declines in recent years have been slower than among men. 
  • Racial disparities in women’s incarceration have changed dramatically since the start of the century.  Black women were incarcerated at 6 times the rate of white women in 2000, while the 2017 figure is now 1.8 times that rate. These changes have been a function of both a declining number of black women in prison and a rising number of white women. For Hispanic women, the ratio has changed from 1.6 times that of white women in 2000 to 1.4 times in 2017.

April 25, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Vera Institute documents another drop in the US prison population in 2018

The Vera Institute of Justice today released this notable new "Evidence Brief" titled simply "People in Prison in 2018."  Here is part of this document's summary:

Effective advocacy and policy making require up-to-date information. V era Institute of Justice (Vera) researchers collected data on the number of people in state and federal prisons on December 31, 2018 to provide timely information on how prison incarceration is changing in the United States.  This report fills a gap until the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) releases its 2018 annual report — likely in early 2020 — which will include additional data, such as population breakdowns by race and sex.

At the end of 2018, there were an estimated 1,471,200 people in state and federal prisons, down 20,000 from year-end 2017 (1.3 percent decline).  There were 1,291,000 people under state prison jurisdiction, 16,600 fewer than in 2017 (1.3 percent decline); and 179,900 in the federal prison system, 3,200 fewer than in 2017 (1.7 percent decline).

The prison incarceration rate in the United States was 450 people in prison per 100,000 residents, down from 458 per 100,000 in the previous year, representing a 1.8 percent drop. This brings the rate of prison incarceration down 15.2 percent since its peak in 2007.

The overall decline in the national prison incarceration rate was driven by the large decrease in the number of people in federal prisons, as well as greater than 5 percent declines in incarceration rates in seven states.  Of those states, a few have large prison populations, such as Missouri, South Carolina, New York and North Carolina.  However, the declines were not universal.  Mass incarceration is still on the rise in some states, such as Indiana, Texas, and Wyoming.

Vera has some visualizations and other related materials at this webpage.  The Marshall Project has this article about Vera's findings providing a broader context for the data and including these important points:

Advocates for prison reform have come to rely on Vera’s data as the federal reports are increasingly outdated. The Bureau of Justice Statistics compiles a comprehensive data set on people in prison, which includes demographic information. But because of budget cuts the latest report, released in 2018, covers prisoners in 2016. The 2017 data is set to be released on Thursday.

Timely data on the people in prison helps analysts and legislators understand where criminal justice changes are having the biggest impact, said Jacob Kang-Brown, one of the study’s authors. “This report shows whether states are following through and reducing the number of people that are locked up in prison,” he said, and which are “bucking the trend.”

April 24, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)