Thursday, September 17, 2020

BOP reported federal prison population ticks up for first time in COVID era

Regular readers know that I have been closely watching COVID-era changes in the federal prison population because of dramatic declines in the federal Bureau of Prisons' weekly updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers.  At the start if the COVID era, the reported federal prison population was around 175,000.  But, as I highlighted in a series of prior posts, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through much of the spring the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week.  Into and through the summer months, weekly declines continued but at a rate closer to about 500.  As of last week, as reported in this post, the BOP reported "Total Federal Inmates" was down to 155,483. 

Today, on the cusp of fall 2020, the new BOP numbers at this webpage report "Total Federal Inmates" at 155,741.  In other words, there is reason to wonder whether we may have hit "the bottom" as to COVID era federal population declines, as this week we see an increase in the reported population of just ver 250 persons.  

I have wondered repeatedly in these posts whether COVID-delayed sentencings and stalled federal prison transfers may account for most of these declines.  But a persistent lack of any real-time sentencing data from the US Sentencing Commission and the opaque nature of BOP data make it hard for me to be sure just what these reported population numbers represent.  As I have said before, I am hopeful we may eventually get some timely sentencing data from the USSC.  But we are now well over six months into the pandemic, and the USSC still seems in no rush to provide any inkling of how the federal criminal sentencing process has been impacted by and adjusting to the COVID era.

A few of many prior related posts:

September 17, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Making the case for independent oversight of the federal Bureau of Prisons

Kevin Ring has this effective new Hill commentary headlined "Congress should support independent oversight of federal prisons." I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

If the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) can ignore a United States senator with impunity, what chance does an average citizen with a loved one in prison have of getting their concerns addressed?  The answer is likely none.  It’s time for Congress to address the BOP’s lack of accountability and transparency by creating an independent body to oversee the agency.

Nine months ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) learned of allegations that women were being sexually assaulted by corrections staff at the Coleman federal prison complex in his state.  He also had heard reports that Legionnaire’s disease was spreading throughout the complex.  He wrote to Attorney General William Barr to ask what the BOP, which the Justice Department oversees, was doing to protect women and stop the disease’s spread.  Nine months later, Rubio still had not gotten a response.

What Rubio experienced is what nearly 160,000 families with people in the BOP’s custody experience every day: maddening silence or, if they’re lucky, getting the run-around in response to inquiries about a loved one’s health, safety, or sometimes even their location.  If a U.S. senator cannot get answers from the BOP, imagine what doing so is like for an average person with no political connections.

The media, lawmakers, taxpayers and families are left in the dark about how the BOP runs its 122 prison facilities.  Prisoners and their families regularly must resolve problems small, large and life-threatening with the agency, for the years or decades that a sentence lasts.  Congress’s judiciary committees hold BOP oversight hearings, but they are rarely in-depth or revealing.  At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, committee members were unable to get data from the BOP about basic issues such as coronavirus testing, demographics of people released, and the agency’s response to ongoing federal litigation.  An agency that is constitutionally required to maintain the health, safety, and rehabilitation of 160,000 people deserves continuous oversight, not a hearing once or twice a year....

Several states have established effective prison oversight offices to great success. These offices, sometimes called “ombudsmen,” typically are independent from state Departments of Corrections.  Their powers include the ability to enter and inspect prisons without notice, conduct confidential interviews with incarcerated people and prison staff, recommend improvements and monitor their implementation, access data and records, and even help resolve complaints from families and prisoners.

Oversight such as this helps identify and prevent problems (and costly lawsuits) and makes prisons safer places for those who reside and work there.  This year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law greatly expanding the powers of the state’s oversight office.  Washington State, Pennsylvania and New York also have prison oversight bodies, and Texas has a statewide jail oversight body.

September 14, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The new death penalty: The Marshall Project reporting COVID prisoner deaths exceed 1000

In this post back in May, I started what became a series of posts in which I noted what might be called a new kind of death penalty for prison and jail inmates in the United States: by killing many hundreds of incarcerated persons, COVID-19 has turned all sorts of other sentences into functional death sentences.  In prior postings, I have often flagged the death data from the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, but today I see that The Marshall Project has updated data here showing that prisoner deaths have hit another grim milestone:

Deaths

The first known COVID-19 death of a prisoner was in Georgia when Anthony Cheek died on March 26. Cheek, who was 49 years old, had been held in Lee State Prison near Albany, a hotspot for the disease.  Since then, at least 1,016 other prisoners have died of coronavirus-related causes.  By Sept. 8, the total number of deaths had risen by 5 percent in a week.

There have been at least 1,017 deaths from coronavirus reported among prisoners.

Of course, 1000 is just a round number and every single COVID death is individually sad and disconcerting.  I continue to hope that, somehow, we might be getting past the worst of this pandemic that has (predictably) already been so lethal for persons in and around prisons and jails. 

A few of many prior related posts:

September 13, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Federal prison population now down to 155,483 according to BOP reporting

Regular readers likely realize that I am no longer providing weekly updates on COVID-era changes in the federal prison population because declines in the federal Bureau of Prisons' weekly updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers has slowed considerably.  But I am continuing to notice that the BOP population is still declining and this story seems worth watching closely amidst  continuing efforts to return to some form of new normal.

As I have noted before via this post, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through April the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week; through May, as detailed here, the pace of weekly decline increased to an average of around 1,200 fewer reported prisoners; through June, as detailed here, declines continued at a slightly reduced rate of about 950 fewer persons reported in all federal facilities on average per week.  But by the tail end of July, as noted here, weekly reported population declines were trending under 500.

My post on July 30 noted that the federal population was at a another new historic low with the new BOP reported "Total Federal Inmates" at 157,862.  Three weeks later, on August 20, I reported here that we were down to 156,415.  Today, three more weeks on, the new BOP numbers at this webpage report "Total Federal Inmates" at 155,483

As I have said repeatedly before, I still suspect that COVID-delayed sentencings and stalled federal prison transfers continued to account for mot of these declines; but the lack of any real-time sentencing data from the US Sentencing Commission and the opaque nature of BOP data make it hard to be sure just what the reported population numbers represent.  I am hopeful that we will eventually get some sentencing data from the USSC that can help us better understand these prison data, but now well over six months into the pandemic, the USSC still seems in no rush to provide any inkling of how the federal criminal sentencing process has been impacted. Grrr.

A few of many prior related posts:

September 10, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Ugly details from federal defenders' latest fact sheet on COVID-19 and federal detention

Sentencing Resource Counsel for the Federal Public Community Defenders has just released this new two-page fact sheet dense with information and links on "The COVID-19 Crisis in Federal Detention."  I recommend the full document, and here are some of the details (absent the links):

COVID-19 is ripping through the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), infecting incarcerated individuals at a rate 4 times the general population, and causing deaths at nearly twice the national rate. BOP is “making it worse,” said Joe Rojas, the regional vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals. “They’re making the virus explode.”

There have now been 126 reported deaths of incarcerated individuals, an incalculable loss.  They were parents, siblings, and children.  They were us.  Some of their deaths were surely preventable.  BOP’s press releases reveal that the majority — 93 — were at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and BOP knew it.  At least a quarter of those who have died in BOP’s care were seventy or older.  Last month, BOP told the Washington Post that at least 18 individuals died while their requests for compassionate release were pending.  To date, we have identified 19 individuals who died in BOP custody after filing — and in some cases, even after being granted — requests for release....

BOP and DOJ have ignored the tools Congress gave them to lower prison populations safely.  The bipartisan CARES Act authorized AG Barr to dramatically expand the use of home confinement to protect the most vulnerable from COVID-19.  But in response, AG Barr and BOP have issued restrictive guidance and memos, each “more confusing than the next,” that together establish a “complex set of procedural and logistical hurdles to home confinement.”  To date, BOP has approved for transfer to home confinement only 4.4% of the 174,923 who were in custody on February 20.  The DOJ OIG examined BOP’s response to COVID-19 at one of BOP’s hardest-hit facilities, Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, and found that BOP’s use of home confinement at FCC Lompoc was “extremely limited.”  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not released demographic data on the individuals BOP has approved for home confinement, despite congressional demands.  At a time when transparency is more important than ever, the federal incarceration system is a black box. “The problem is that prisons in the U.S. are not accustomed to oversight and transparency.”

Thanks to the First Step Act of 2018, individuals no longer must depend on BOP to initiate a motion for compassionate release. Post-FSA, defendants may file a motion directly with the court 30 days after the warden’s receipt of a request.  But during the COVID-19 crisis, this 30-day delay, coupled with DOJ’s routine opposition, prevents vulnerable defendants from obtaining critical relief.  At FMC Carswell, a medical facility that houses the most medically vulnerable women in BOP, “fewer than 20 women” have reportedly received compassionate release.  Based on a survey of defense attorneys representing clients across the country, we are not aware of a single BOP-initiated motion for compassionate release based on heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19 infection.

September 9, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, September 06, 2020

"Lives on the Line: Women with Incarcerated Loved Ones and the Impact of COVID-19 Behind Bars"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting recent report I just came across from the "Lives on the Line Campaign." Here is part of the start of the report's executive summary:

Incarceration has always posed a grave threat to public health. Jails, prisons, and detention centers subject people to dangerous, unhealthy, inhumane conditions and experiences by design.  So, when COVID-19 became a pandemic, we knew that our loved ones’ lives were on the line. We knew that the crowded, unsanitary conditions behind bars and a lack of access to medical care would mean that incarcerated people would be among those hit hardest by the virus.  We knew that the patriarchal, punitive values embedded into the prison industrial complex would prevent incarcerated people from receiving the kind of care they need to survive a pandemic.  And we knew that this harm would ripple out to cause profound physical, emotional, and economic harm for the communities that mass incarceration targets: historically marginalized people, especially Black and Brown communities and women.

In response, Essie Justice Group, in partnership with Color of Change, created the Lives on the Line survey for people with incarcerated loved ones.  Knowing that carceral spaces are designed to obscure their own violence, the survey sought out concrete data that could illustrate what was happening behind bars and buoy the efforts of advocates across the country fighting to free incarcerated people amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  Carceral facilities are using COVID-19 as poor justification to further isolate incarcerated women, men, and people of all genders from the outside.  Therefore, we put out a public call to people with incarcerated loved ones to share information and testimonies, acknowledging that women with family members behind bars are uniquely material witnesses to what is happening in prisons, jails and detention centers during COVID-19. Our survey ran over a four-week period from May 5th to June 7th, 2020.  We received 709 responses.

The data we collected makes clear that what is happening with COVID-19 behind bars is a humanitarian and public health disaster.  Jails, prisons, and detention centers are callously failing to take bare minimum measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as instating distancing protocols or providing adequate supplies of free soap, disinfectant, or masks to incarcerated people.  Facilities have exploited the virus as an opportunity to further sever connections between incarcerated people and their support networks, including their lawyers and their loved ones.  In a moment when people need to be released faster than ever, court dates, hearings, and release dates are being delayed.  As a result, incarcerated people are suffering and dying from COVID-19 at alarmingly high rates.  They and their loved ones live with fear, extraordinary anxiety, and extreme isolation.  Incarceration is fundamentally incompatible with human dignity and human health; COVID-19 makes that undeniable.

A key objective of this report is to highlight the disparate impact of COVID-19 behind bars on Black people and Black women, uplifting the crisis as a gender and racial justice issue.

September 6, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 04, 2020

Plenty more COVID headlines and stories in incarceration nation

I am now generally rounding up prison-COVID press pieces every few weeks, even though the ugliness of American prisons and jails during a pandemic is a felt reality for millions of incarcerated persons and their families every day.  As I have said before, we should be thankful that the press and commentators keep reporting and discussing these stories that keep emerging from our prisons and jails:

From the Appalachian Media Institute, "A Call for Help (from Prison During COVID)"

From Cal Matters, "COVID-19 hotspots revealed the need for prison reform and better rehabilitation"

From Carolina Public Press, "Are NC prisons in contempt? Punishing sick, misleading information alleged as judge weighs action"

From CNN, "Prison inmates are twice as likely to die of Covid-19 than those on the outside, new report finds"

From Cowboy State Daily, "Due to Coronavirus, Wyoming Penitentiary Prisoners Let Out Of Cells 15 Minutes A Day"

From Governing, "COVID Prison Disaster Prompts Reform Bills: Legislative Watch"

From Montana Public Radio, "'It’s Like Sardines:' Advocates Call For Health Protections For Inmates"

From STAT, "As Covid-19 cases in prisons climb, data on race remain largely obscured"

From WBUR, "Medical Experts Raise Questions About COVID-19 Data From Mass. Jails And Prisons"

In this round-up, I have left out stories about continued increases in positive COIVD cases and deaths among prisoners not because there aren't any, but because there are too many to cover them all effectively.

September 4, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

CCJ releases new "Impact Reports" on "COVID-19 and Prisons" and "COVID-19 and Jails"

Earlier today I was praising the work of the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) for launching an important and impressive new commission to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system (basic details here).  Not more than a few minutes later, I received an email about two new important reports from the commission.  Here is the heart of the email with links to the reports:

New research released today by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found wide disparities among states in rates of COVID-related deaths and cases in prisons.  Five states — Arkansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Ohio, and Delaware — reported prison mortality rates more than eight times higher than rates for their general state populations, while some states — including New York and Pennsylvania — reported prison death rates below those for the non-incarcerated.

Overall, after adjusting for the age, sex, and race/ethnicity of incarcerated individuals, the study found that theCOVID-19 mortality rate in state and federal prisons is twice that of the death rate for the general population.  Without those demographic adjustments, the rate of COVID-19 cases in prisons is more than four times the national rate. 

The Commission also released a separate analysis of the pandemic’s impact on jail populations, based on more than 14 million daily jail population records collected between January 1 and July 20.  Reflecting data from 375 facilities in 39 states, it found that jail numbers declined by an average of 31% between the issuance of the White House Coronavirus Guidelines on March 16 and mid-May.

The declines were accompanied by changes in the composition of jail populations.  After pandemic responses began in March, data showed that those released from jails were on average 34% more likely to have been booked on felony charges, and had been detained for 71% longer, compared to pre-pandemic releases.  The shares of people in jail who were booked on only misdemeanor charges, who were female, and who were white all decreased, while the proportions of those who were black, male, age 25 or younger, and booked on felonies increased.  These compositional changes have persisted even as the jail population trend reversed, growing 12% between mid-May and July 20. 

The jails study, by  Anna Harvey and Orion Taylor of New York University’s Public Safety Lab, also showed that rebooking rates for people released after March 16 remained at or below pre-pandemic rates.  These findings suggest the population reduction did not negatively affect public safety during the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the authors caution that this could change as the pandemic wears on....

The prisons report was prepared by economist  Kevin T. Schnepel of Simon Fraser University. Analyzing data through August 19, it also found that:

  • Among large correctional systems, Ohio reported 86 COVID-related deaths and a prison death rate more than 11 times the state rate; Texas had 112 deaths and a mortality rate about three times the state rate; and California, with 53 deaths, had a death rate about twice the state rate.
  • The highest prison mortality rate was reported by Arkansas. With 34 deaths and a prison population of about 15,500, its mortality rate of 218 deaths per 100,000 people in prison was nearly 20 times the state rate.
  • Fourteen states reported zero COVID-19 deaths within their prisons, and six reported COVID-19 death rates below adjusted state mortality rates.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons – the largest single prison system in the nation with about 179,000 people held in facilities – reported 116 deaths and a mortality rate nearly twice the national rate.
  • Overall, the highest mortality rates were reported in large prisons (over 1,000 people), which accounted for 83% of total confirmed coronavirus infections and 87% of total deaths.

September 2, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new tool for tracking COVID-19 risk in state prisons

I just was altered to this notable new tool coming from the Litmus Program at the NYU Marron Institute, which is described via this posting titled "State Prison Covid-19 Risk Tracker":

Correctional and detention facilities have proven to be hotspots for COVID-19, with the ten largest outbreak clusters in the United States occurring in prisons or jails.  Staff and visitors come and go from correctional institutions, potentially bringing infection in and out.  As facility administrators and health officials shift from immediate crisis response to managing a dynamic and long-term event, data-tracking tools can guide proactive steps to manage outbreaks and improve conditions of confinement.

The Litmus team generated a census of state adult correctional and detention facilities and created an interactive mapping tool that uses publicly available, county-level data from the New York Times on numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, updated daily, to indicate which facilities are located in or near counties that appear to be at high risk for community transmission.  Community risk is calculated using three alternative metrics: recent deaths, recent death rates per 100k, and current case-doubling time.

With support from Unorthodox Philanthropy, the NYU Marron Institute interactive mapping tool is created as a resource for families and advocacy groups and to assist decision-makers in prioritizing PPE, staff and resident testing, increased social distancing (e.g., dorm closures), more stringent cleaning procedures, and adapting policies, including early release, in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.  It can guide intra-system transfers, indicating facilities between which it may be safe to transfer residents and facilities that should restrict new transfers and keep vacancies as people release, to allow for greater social distancing.  The tool is also intended to make community-risk information more accessible so that it can be used to improve conditions of confinement.  Community-risk data can help prioritize lower-risk facilities for relaxing restrictions on external service providers and allowing more congregant time or outside visitors, improving upon the stark conditions in which many incarcerated people currently reside.  It can inform release protocols, allowing for prioritization of quarantine housing, testing, and other support for people returning to their communities from high-risk facilities and serve as a mechanism to target community partnerships between facilities, local health departments, and community-serving organizations.

September 2, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

FAMM announces notable new campaign focused on a "Second Chances Agenda"

Long-time readers are surely aware that I have long advocated for, and written a lot about, revisiting problematic sentences and expanding the means and manner of doing so.  (I have written numerous articles related to this topic, some of which I have linked below.)  Consequently, I was very pleased to see this press release from FAMM discussing its new campaign:

FAMM announces a new “Second Chances Agenda“ campaign aimed at urging state and federal policymakers to increase their use of compassionate release and clemency, and to encourage the introduction of more second look legislation.

“One of the things we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that every state knows to impose lengthy mandatory sentences, but very few have ways to revisit those sentences when the person or circumstances have changed,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring. “There are people languishing in prison who do not need to be there – and we are no safer for it.

“There are also people who have made remarkable changes in their lives since entering prison, and should be considered for a second chance. If people have served a significant sentence, and they have succeeded in rehabilitating themselves, we should give them an opportunity to go home.”

FAMM’s Second Chances Agenda campaign calls for the following:

  1. Pass “second look” laws. FAMM is urging the creation of laws in every state that direct courts to reconsider a person’s sentence after 10 or 15 years to determine whether a shorter sentence is appropriate. Learn more about second look laws.
  2. Expand compassionate releases. Sometimes referred to as medical or geriatric parole or release, compassionate release programs at the state level are failing to allow early release for elderly and sick people who pose no risk to public safety. Learn more about how these systems work around the country and how FAMM is working to improve them.
  3. Expand clemency. The president and most governors have the authority to shorten excessive prison terms but often fail to use their clemency power to its fullest extent. FAMM is committed to working with governors and the White House to expand the use of executive clemency and to identify people who deserve a second chance.

FAMM also supports other reforms that prosecutors and lawmakers could use to provide second chances.

  • Eliminate extreme mandatory sentences and make the reforms retroactive – When lawmakers pass smart reforms, they rarely apply them retroactively, leaving people to serve unjust sentences that are no longer in the law.
  • Parole reform – Some states have parole, but rules and red tape make it too difficult for people to get it.
  • Sentence integrity units – Prosecutors can promote second chances by reviewing sentences periodically to see if they are appropriate.

FAMM has also launched similar campaigns in ArizonaFlorida and Pennsylvania today.

As even newer readers should also realize, perhaps from this initial posting or this more recent one, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center have been working together on a writing competition for law students and recent graduates to propose a "second-look statute" for Ohio (which is discussed more fully on this DEPC webpage).

Here are just a few of my writing on these kinds of topics (which I might now call my own "Second Chances Agenda"):

September 2, 2020 in Clemency and Pardons, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Making the case for post-secondary education for people in prison

Emily Mooney has this effective new commentary at Politico headlined "We Already Have a Tool That Lowers Crime, Saves Money and Shrinks the Prison Population."  Here are excerpts:

In America, individuals released from prison often return to crime.  One study published in 2018, which analyzed data from 23 states, found that 37 percent of those released in 2012 returned to prison within three years.  Of those released in 2010, 46 percent returned to prison within five years.

But the recidivism rate is far lower for prisoners who are able to get some postsecondary education while in prison.  Fewer than 3 percent of graduates of [the Bard Prison Initiative], which is based in New York, return to prison.  In contrast, well over 30 percent of individuals released from the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision return to custody within just three years.  Other colleges with similar postsecondary education programs for prisoners also boast lower recidivism statistics than their state averages.

Providing education to the incarcerated is a win-win — it reduces future crime rates and saves public funds that otherwise would be spent keeping people in jail or prison. Unfortunately ... the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act rendered anyone behind bars ineligible to receive federal Pell Grants.  These grants, which give impoverished students financial aid for postsecondary education, had long been a critical funding mechanism for in-prison college programs.  The Pell Grant ban put a virtual end to postsecondary education for prisoners who weren’t able to take advantage of privately funded programs like Bard’s or who didn’t have greater familial financial support.

This situation remained largely unchanged until the announcement of the Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Pilot Program in 2015.  By expanding educational opportunities for some people behind bars, the program aimed to help individuals returning home acquire work, financially support their families and claim a second chance for a better life.  The Pell Pilot Program currently allows around 10,000 students at selected institutions to receive Pell Grant funding each year to attend classes.  While better than nothing, there would be hundreds of thousands of individuals who would be eligible to receive Pell Grant funding if the ban was lifted.

While at least part of the improved recidivism rates depends on personal characteristics of the people who seek out educational opportunities, the findings of multiple studies that attempt to account for these differences reinforce the conclusion that investing in postsecondary education for prisoners is one of the smartest ways to increase safety in our communities....

[F]ailing to invest in postsecondary education for prisoners means a lost opportunity to save taxpayer dollars at a time when state and local budgets are reeling from lost revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Incarcerating someone usually costs tens of thousands of dollars a year. If Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners was reinstated, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, the savings to states is estimated to be approximately $365.8 million per year in incarceration costs alone.  This is likely an underestimate, since it does not include other direct and indirect costs of crime or potential benefits of educating prisoners, such as increased economic output.

This is forfeited money that could otherwise be available for investing in other taxpayer priorities. A 2016 brief by the Department of Education found that while per capita spending on corrections increased by almost half from the late 1990s to the early 2010s, the amount of state and local postsecondary education funding per full-time student plummeted.

On account of the potential cost-savings and public safety benefits, it is clear that federal policymakers of both parties should support reinstating Pell Grants. State policymakers, too, should look for ways to expand educational offerings within state and local correctional systems.  Luckily, lawmakers are beginning to introduce legislation to support these goals. A repeal of the Pell Grant ban was included in an appropriations “minibus” bill passed out of the House at the end of July; it currently is waiting for action by the Senate. If successful, this measure promises a new era of learning — and safety.

September 1, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2020

"Locking up my generation: Cohort differences in prison spells over the life course"

The title of this post is the title of this new Criminology article authored by Yinzhi Shen, Shawn D. Bushway, Lucy C. Sorensen and Herbert L. Smith.  Here is its abstract:

Crime rates have dropped substantially in the United States, but incarceration rates have remained high.  The standard explanation for the lasting trend in incarceration is that the policy choices from the 1980s and 1990s were part of a secular increase in punitiveness that has kept rates of incarceration high.  Our study highlights a heretofore overlooked perspective: that the crime–punishment wave in the 1980s and 1990s created cohort differences in incarceration over the life course that changed the level of incarceration even decades after the wave. 
With individual‐level longitudinal sentencing data from 1972 to 2016 in North Carolina, we show that cohort effects — the lingering impacts of having reached young adulthood at particular times in the history of crime and punishment — are at least as large (and likely much larger) than annual variation in incarceration rates attributable to period‐specific events and proclivities.  The birth cohorts that reach prime age of crime during the 1980s and 1990s crime–punishment wave have elevated rates of incarceration throughout their observed life course.  The key mechanism for their elevated incarceration rates decades after the crime–punishment wave is the accumulation of extended criminal history under a sentencing structure that systematically escalates punishment for those with priors.

August 31, 2020 in Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

"Does Prison Work? A Comparative Analysis of Contemporary Prison Systems in England and Wales and Finland, 2000 to Present"

The title of this post is the title of this recent paper now available via SSRN and authored by Joseph Hale. Here is its abstract:

The prison systems in Scandinavian countries have become regarded by many as some of the best in the world, with low incarceration and recidivism rates.  Conversely, riots, overcrowding, inadequate staffing numbers, and high recidivism rates surround the prison system in England and Wales; such failures raise questions on what the role of prison in society is: the prevention and reduction of crime or, the social control and marginalisation of the most vulnerable members in our community?

By focusing on the prison systems in both England and Wales and Finland, this article will argue 1) that prison system in England and Wales has in recent years developed in becoming more focused towards rehabilitation but, still faces numerous challenges including working within predominantly Victorian-era carceral spaces, limited funding, lack of vocational training opportunities and the perception within a significant sector of the public that they have become ‘holiday camps’. 2) The Finnish prison system appears to encompass much higher regard for both prisoners’ welfare and a greater emphasis on rehabilitation building upon changes throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 3) By addressing stigmas and ensuring that opportunities are actively encourage and made more available, the English system, like Finland, could become a world-leading example; reducing recidivism and incarceration rates, and demonstrating that prison can work.

August 29, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Scale of the COVID-19-Related Jail Population Decline"

The title of this post is the title of this new short "evidence brief" from the Vera Institute.  Here is its summary:

From mid-March to mid-April 2020 — the first month of rapid spread of COVID-19 in the United States — there was an unprecedented reduction in the number of people held in local jails.  Analysis conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) of the most comprehensive jail data available shows that the number of people in jail in the United States fell by one quarter, mainly over the course of that month.  Jail bookings dropped as people who would otherwise have been arrested stayed home, and police and sheriffs made fewer arrests they deemed unnecessary.

Simultaneously, many judges and prosecutors used their broad discretion to facilitate the release of people they deemed safe, while public defenders filed thousands of motions to secure the release of their clients.  Although some highly visible judges and prosecutors continued to stand in the way of decarceration — even while the deadly virus spread quickly through jails and prisons — the overall impact was a rapid reduction in the sizable population of jailed people whose incarceration had no clear public safety rationale.

But as the United States faces continued outbreaks of COVID-19, it is crucial to recognize that decarceration has still been inadequate, from both a public safety and a public health perspective.  Future COVID-19 responsive policies should focus on facilitating the release of much broader categories of people and avoiding arrests and bookings that would refill jails.  In the immediate term, further reducing jail populations would help to slow or stop the continued spread of the virus inside and outside jail facilities, and it could also help reduce correctional spending as state and local budgets shrink.  In the long-term, this could enable an enduring shift of resources away from law enforcement and punishment and toward public services and responses. Such a policy approach would move the country toward ending both mass incarceration and the social and economic harms it inflicts on poor, Black, and brown communities.

August 27, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases report on "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2017-2018"

Though I am sad that data in reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics is often a bit dated, I am always grateful for the work BJS does to assemble and detail criminal justice data. And I am especially pleased to see this latest BJS report, titled "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2017-2018," in part because it details the continued decline in correctional populations for now more than a decade (which I certainly believe has continued into 2019 and 2020). This BJS webpage provides this context and highlights:

This report is the 23rd in a series that began in 1985. It provides statistics on populations supervised by adult correctional systems in the United States, including persons held in prisons or jails and those supervised in the community on probation or parole. It provides statistics on the size of the correctional populations at year-end 2017 and year-end 2018, and changes in populations over time.

Highlights:

  • The adult correctional-supervision rate (adults supervised per 100,000 adult U.S. residents) decreased 21% from 2008 to 2018, from 3,160 to 2,510 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents.
  • The percentage of adult U.S. residents under correctional supervision was lower in 2018 than at any time since 1992.
  • The adult incarceration rate (adults in prison or jail per 100,000 adult U.S. residents) has declined every year since 2008, and the rate in 2018 was the lowest since 1996.
  • The portion of adult U.S. residents in prison or jails fell 17% from 2008 to 2018.
  • The correctional population declined 2.1% from 2017 to 2018, due to decreases in both the community-supervision (down 2.4%) and incarcerated (down 1.4%) populations.

August 27, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Spotlighting the still sorry state of federal prisons six months into a COVID pandemic

It has now be almost a full six months since my first post here flagging concerns about the intersection of incarceration and coronavirus, and since then I have covered this challenging story in dozens more posts. But the Washington Post has this notable new piece highlights that prison nation still has big COVID problems, and that matters seem to be even worse in federal prisons than in state systems. The piece is headlined "Prisoners and guards agree about federal coronavirus response: ‘We do not feel safe’," and here are excerpts:

Kareen “Troy” Troitino spent all of July working in a prison medical facility just as the coronavirus was surging through Miami’s Federal Correctional Institution, where the number of confirmed cases ballooned from a handful of prisoners to nearly 100 in a matter of days.  When he returned to work at FCI Miami in August, he was caught off guard when the prisoners welcomed him back with a laudatory uproar he said “sounded like the Super Bowl.”

Word had circulated among prisoners in the 1,000-person low-security facility that Troitino, a corrections officer and union president, was telling reporters, lawmakers and managers that despite assurances, the Bureau of Prisons’ response to the coronavirus pandemic was endangering the lives of federal employees and prisoners alike.  Troitino, who spoke to The Washington Post as a representative of his union, acknowledged that prisoners and guards don’t always find themselves on the same team; but in a pandemic, everyone’s fates are intertwined.  “All of us are trying to survive,” Troitino said.  “Your health affects me, and vice versa. Inmates and staff, we do not feel safe.”

Troitino is among the federal workers suing the government for hazard pay over what they say are risky conditions they’re forced to work under during the pandemic — but he’s hardly a disgruntled worker.  When the BOP announced Aug. 5 it had moved into Phase 9 of its covid-19 action plan, prisoners and their advocates panned the news as the bureau’s attempt to create the impression that the virus is under control in facilities while papering over a deepening health and safety crisis.

BOP Director Michael Carvajal has dismissed scrutiny of the bureau as “misinformation.” During a June Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on covid-19 best practices for prisons and jails, Carvajal testified that the bureau was well-prepared and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had praised the bureau after evaluating unspecified facilities in the early months of the pandemic.  As of June 1, Carvajal said 1,650 federal inmates and 171 bureau staff had tested positive.  Less than 12 weeks later, those numbers grew to 11,953 prisoners and 1,436 staff, with more than 120 combined deaths, according to UCLA’s Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project.

Covid-19 cases are proportionally higher and have spread faster in prisons than in the outside population, said Brendan Saloner, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is studying the issue. Saloner told The Post federal public defenders contacted his team with troubling details from clients. “Their contention is that it’s worse in the BOP than in the state prisons,” he said....

Interviews with a dozen federal prison employees, prisoners, lawyers and health and legal experts who monitor correctional facilities, as well as reviews of lawsuits and petitions filed by prisoners and collected from the UCLA data project, show the ways by which the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems in federal prisons; they range from overcrowding and staff shortages to a lack of transparency around policies for personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.

“It’s a complete disaster,” said Rob Norcross, an inmate at the minimum-security satellite camp at FCI Jesup in Georgia. The bureau’s stated guidelines about sanitization and social distancing don’t comport with reality, Norcross said: Prison camp inmates are barred from using hand sanitizer, lack cleaning supplies and have nowhere they can move to to create space....

Norcross’s complaints mirror those in a July report by the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General about conditions at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.: The OIG reported several issues, including a shortage of medical staffers to address prisoner health concerns and instances where prisoners who clearly exhibited covid-19 symptoms were not tested.  The areas where the Lompoc facility scored the lowest were related to adequate PPE supply for staff and prisoners, and adequate soap or hand sanitizer for prisoners.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) ... sent Carvajal letters demanding answers on testing and transparency. Warren and several congressional Democrats introduced a bill Aug. 6 that would require federal and local corrections facilities to collect and report comprehensive data on covid-19 infections and deaths. “Covid-19 is out of control in prisons and jails across the country — and the Trump Administration has failed to effectively manage this pandemic and protect the health and safety of incarcerated people, correctional staff, and the general public,” Warren said in the past week in a statement to The Post.

UCLA Law’s Sharon Dolovich, who leads the Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, echoed Warren’s criticism of the bureau, noting the data it does publish on coronavirus cases and deaths is non-comprehensive and opaque.  “The culture of secrecy that’s been allowed to develop in the nation’s prisons and jails over the past 40 years is antithetical to these institutions’ status in a democratic society,” she said.  “We have government officials who act as if this is their private information.”

August 25, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2020

"Climate Change and the Criminal Justice System"

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

The past decade has been the warmest decade in history. But while there has been a great deal of attention paid to issues of infrastructure sustainability, less attention has been focused on the impact of climate change on our criminal justice system.  This paper identifies how we can anticipate climate change will affect and create new challenges for law enforcement, prisons, prosecutorial and defense agencies, government offices, and communities.  This article first examines three ways climate change is challenging our criminal justice system — from altering the types of crimes committed, to detrimentally impacting prisons, jails, and other criminal justice institutions, to challenging traditional doctrines of criminal law such as the necessity and duress defenses and causation.  Drawing in part on lessons from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this article makes ten recommendations on how such challenges can be met.

August 24, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Incarceration and the Law: Cases and Materials (Table of Contents and Ch. 1 Excerpt)"

The title of this post is the title of this SSRN posting with a part of the latest new edition of the casebook Incarceration and the Law: Cases and Materials.  Here is the abstract:

This posts a table of contents and much of the first chapter to a fully overhauled, updated, and expanded edition of the leading case book on incarceration.  The case book examines the complex legal regime that defines prisoners’ rights. Mass incarceration in America creates a host of controversies at the crossroads of constitutional liberty, legislation, public policy, and prison management.  It considers those issues from diverse perspectives by presenting an array of materials: Supreme Court and leading lower court caselaw, statutes, litigation materials, professional standards, academic commentary, prisoner writing, and more.  (There is also an associated website, http://incarcerationlaw.com, which offers additional open sources, supplementing the book for those who own it and providing a freestanding repository of materials for those who do not.)

Chapter 1 provides background on American jails and prisons (What’s the difference between a jail and a prison?  What is incarceration supposed to accomplish?  How do prison abolitionists conceptualize and justify their goals?  How did American incarceration develop?)  It provides longitudinal and contemporary statistics.  Finally, it offers narrative and case law background on the development of the modern conception of prisoners’ rights.

August 23, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

The new death penalty: COVID has now killed more US prisoners in months than the US death penalty has in the last two decades

The UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project has been doing a terrific job keeping an updated count, via this spreadsheet, of confirmed COVID deaths of persons serving time in state and federal facilities.  As of the morning of Sunday, August 23, this UCLA accounting had tabulated 858 "Confirmed Deaths (Residents)." 

This considerable number is sad and disconcerting on its own terms, but it is even more remarkable given that it amounts to more prisoner deaths than has been produced by carrying out formal death sentences in the United States for the entire period from 2001 to 2020.  According to DPIC data, there were a total of 839 executions from the start of 2001 through today.

Of course, comparing capital punishment and COVID incarceration carnage is problematic in many ways.  All persons executed in the US in recent times have been convicted of the most aggravated forms of murder.  The majority of prisoners to die of COVID were not responsible for a death (although, as noted here, some persons on California's death row are part of the COVID prisoner death count).  In a few prior posts here and here, I noted that nearly half of the early reported deaths of federal prisoners involved individuals serving time for drug crimes.  Another such offender died just last week according to this BOP press release: Luis A. Velez contracted COVID in FCI Coleman this summer and died on August 18; he was only 58-year-old and had been in federal prison for five years (of a 13-year sentence) after his conviction of possession with intent to distribute meth.

Another problem with comparing capital punishment and COVID incarceration carnage relates to that correctional staff do not die from administering capital punishment, but many have died from COVID.  The UCLA spreadsheet currently reports "only" 72 "Confirmed Deaths (Staff).  I am pleasantly surprised that this number is not bigger, but I will be ever troubled by the thought it could have been much lower along with the prisoner death number if more aggressive depopulation efforts were taken to more the most vulnerable and least risky offenders out of the super-spreader environment that prisons represent.

A few of many prior related posts:

August 23, 2020 in Death Penalty Reforms, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, August 21, 2020

Ugly COVID headlines and stories not stopping in incarceration nation

It has now been a couple of weeks since I did a round-up of prison-COVID press pieces.  Thankfully, the press and commentators keeping reporting and discussing the discouraging tales that keep emerging from our prisons and jails, and here is a round-up of just a few recent headlines and pieces:

From ABC News, "'Who is going to man the prison if everyone tests positive?' Corrections officer union warns of dual threat facing federal prisons"

From the Detroit Free Press, "Nearly half the population at Michigan prison tests positive for COVID-19"

From Forbes, "A Look Inside A Federal Prison With Covid-19: FCI Seagoville"

From The Guardian, "'Severe inhumanity': California prisons overwhelmed by Covid outbreaks and approaching fires"

From MarketWatch, "U.S. taxpayers already pay a high price to support America’s giant prison population. Now COVID-19 is costing them even more"

From the Miami Herald, "Rubio demands answers from Barr on sexual abuse, COVID response at Florida prison"

From the Phoenix New Times, "'We Are Not Animals': Prisoner Slams State Response to COVID-19 Outbreak"

From the Sacramento Bee, "Folsom Prison COVID-19 cases double, now California’s largest active inmate outbreak"

From the Seattle Times, "Virus outbreak at Washington State Penitentiary, and the response, alarm inmates’ friends and family"

From STLtoday.com, "COVID-19 cases in Missouri prison system increase 50% in less than a month"

August 21, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Federal prison population, per BOP report of "Total Federal Inmates," now down to 156,415

Regular readers may have noticed that this month I stopped doing my regular Thursday morning updates on COVID-era changes in the federal prison population based on the federal Bureau of Prisons' weekly updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers. I did because the numbers through the end of July suggested that the federal prison population was getting closer to flattening out with weekly declines that were becoming considerably lower than in previous months. But I will still post episodically on this topic because the BOP population is still declining and this story still remains significant.

As I have noted before via this post, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through April the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week; through May, as detailed here, the pace of weekly decline increased to an average of around 1,200 fewer reported prisoners; through June, as detailed here, declines continued at a slightly reduced rate of about 950 fewer persons reported in all federal facilities on average per week.  But by the tail end of July, as noted here, weekly reported population declines were trending under 500.

My post on July 30 noted that the federal population was at a another new historic low with the new BOP reported "Total Federal Inmates" at 157,862.  Three weeks later we have hit another new historic low,and we seem to keeping the pacing at reductions of just under 500 per week, as the new BOP numbers at this webpage report "Total Federal Inmates" at 156,415. I still suspect that more COVID-delayed sentencings and stalled federal prison transfers continued to account for these declines; but the lack of any real-time sentencing data from the US Sentencing Commission and the opaque nature of BOP data make it hard to be sure just what the reported population numbers represent. 

I am hopeful that we will eventually get some sentencing data from the USSC that can help us better understand these prison data, but now nearly six months into the pandemic the USSC still seems in no rush to provide any inkling of how the federal criminal sentencing process has been impacted. Grrr.

A few of many prior related posts:

August 20, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

"COVID-19, Incarceration, and the Criminal Legal System"

The title of this post is the title of this short new paper authored by Jessica Bresler and Leo Beletsky now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Even before the pandemic, contact with the criminal legal system resulted in health harms on both individual and community levels, with disproportionate impact on people of color.  The COVID-19 crisis magnified the deleterious public health impact of policing, prisons, community supervision, and other elements of the United States’ vast system of control and punishment. 

Despite the scientific consensus that prisons and jails needed to be rapidly depopulated to avert disaster, the number of people released has remained small, resulting in explosive outbreaks of COVID-19 behind bars.  Depopulation of correctional settings is also rarely paired with meaningful efforts to connect reentering individuals to vital supports. Community supervision systems failed to relax onerous probation/parole requirements, while police have taken on enforcement of physical distancing and other public health orders. Even as COVID-19 is raging, the criminal legal system is resisting changes necessary to facilitate pandemic response.

With a focus on incarceration, this Chapter provides an overview of how the U.S. criminal legal system has shaped its COVID-19 response, situating prescriptions in the current debate about divestment from structures of social control in favor of a renewed focus on the social contract.  This Chapter will discuss (1) how the criminal legal system has exacerbated the current public health emergency and (2) how the United States can use this moment to reform this system and its legal underpinning.  This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.

August 19, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

"'Con Air' Is Spreading COVID-19 All Over the US Prison System"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article from VICE News and The Marshall Project. Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for moving people into, out of, and among far-flung federal prisons, handling most long-distance transfers and newly sentenced prisoners. It doesn’t put people in quarantine or give them virus tests before transporting them around the country.  As a result, federal prisoners in Marshals custody are being shipped around the U.S. by plane, van, and bus with no way to know if they are carrying the virus, exposing other prisoners, staff, and possibly the public along the way.

According to whistleblower complaints obtained by VICE News and The Marshall Project, federal prisoners infected with the coronavirus have been shipped as far as Puerto Rico in recent weeks, and to federal lock-ups in Alabama and Florida.  Bureau of Prisons employees say prisoners have also tested positive after being shuffled around to facilities in Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana.

“It’s horrible,” said Anthony Koeppel, a local official with the staff union at Pollock. “It’s putting staff at risk, it’s putting inmates at risk, and it’s putting the community at risk. We’re talking about lives here. This is an extremely dangerous situation.”

The Marshals say they aren’t required to do any testing because “an agreement was made” that the Bureau of Prisons would handle tests and quarantines once prisoners are transferred into its lock-ups. The BOP did not respond to requests for comment.  A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which oversees both agencies, said they “have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive steps to protect the safety and security of all staff, inmates, visitors, and members of the public.”

Transferring prisoners who turn out to be sick has been a problem at prisons across the country.  In California, the San Quentin State Prison went from zero coronavirus infections in late May to more than 2,200 confirmed cases and 26 deaths in early August after prisoners were moved in from a known hotspot without being tested.

Staff and prisoners have blamed transfers for helping the coronavirus wreak havoc across the Bureau of Prisons, killing 111 prisoners and at least one staff member, and infecting over 10,000 prisoners and 1,200 workers in America’s largest network of prisons and jails. The agency officially halted most movement of prisoners in March in an effort to limit the spread of the virus; when it does transfer prisoners itself, it requires them to undergo coronavirus testing and a 14-day quarantine before and after being moved.

But the Marshals don’t abide by those rules — and they keep moving people.  While transfers have slowed — down 76% from April to July compared to the same period last year, according to the Marshals — they never truly stopped. That’s partly due to federal courts and law enforcement agencies pumping thousands of new people into the system.

August 13, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Latest disconcerting COVID data concerning incarcerated people and corrections staff

The CSG Justice Center has this new and disheartening data update under the heading "New COVID-19 Cases in State Prisons Surge in July."  Here are the highlights (really lowlights) from the brief report:

As states grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, they are adopting different responses and seeing different outcomes. This has led to peaks and valleys in the number of new cases in each state since early April.

Cases inside state prison systems tell a similar story, but more dramatically. COVID-19 cases continue to rise among incarcerated people and corrections staff who live and work in state prisons, and the trajectory largely follows that of the general population. July, in particular, was marked by a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases, especially among people who work in state correctional facilities.

Here are three takeaways from The Council of State Governments Justice Center’s latest analysis:

1. Various state-level shelter-in-place orders in April and May appeared to contain and curb the outbreak in state prisons for both incarcerated people and corrections staff; however, as these orders were lifted, new COVID-19 cases increased across the board.

2. While four times as many incarcerated people have contracted COVID-19 as compared with corrections staff, cases are growing fastest among corrections staff....

3. Between July 26 and August 9, the total number of reported COVID-19 cases among people incarcerated in state prisons grew by over 17,000.

August 12, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Millennial Futures Are Bleak. Incarceration Is to Blame."

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting Atlantic commentary authored by Jill Filipovic. Here is how it starts:

The oldest Millennials turn 40 this year, and their prospects are not looking much brighter than when they were recession-battered 20-somethings.  Millennials, born from 1980 to 1996, are the best-educated generation in American history, and the most indebted for it.  They are the largest adult generation, at 22 percent of the U.S. population, and yet hold only 3 percent of the country’s wealth (when Boomers were young adults, they held 21 percent).  From 2009 to 2016, Millennial homeownership rates actually fell by 18 percent. A 2015 Census report found that 20 percent of Millennials live in poverty.

The list of answers to “How did Millennials get here?” is long, but one reason stands out: Millennials are the incarceration generation.  From cradle through childhood to parenthood and near middle age, Millennial lives have been shaped and stymied by policing and prisons.

In the single decade from 1980 to 1990, thanks in no small part to the War on Drugs, the number of people in U.S. prisons more than doubled.  It peaked in 2009, having exploded by 700 percent since 1972.  Although incarceration rates are now declining, they are not going down nearly as quickly as they went up.  Indeed, if the pace of decline continues, it will take close to a century for the number of people in prison to reach what it was in 1980.  Even a more modest goal, such as halving the number of current prisoners, wouldn’t be achieved until nearly all Millennials are in their graves.

No living generation has made it through the incarceration explosion unscathed. In 2009, nearly one in five prisoners was a Baby Boomer.  Millennial timing, however, was spectacularly bad.  Born as imprisonment rates were on their meteoric rise, they grew up in a country that was locking up their parents, then were locked up themselves as the number of children behind bars hit a record high, and entered adulthood in an age of still-high incarceration rates and punishments that last long after a person steps out of the cage.

August 11, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 10, 2020

A global look at pandemic-driving decarceration realities

Vice has this notable new piece headlined "COVID Has Reduced Prison Populations Around the World—Creating a Rare Chance to Fix the System."  The subheadline summaries its coverage: "The United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Europe have all reported significant decreases in prisoner numbers since the pandemic began.  Experts want it to stay that way." And here are excerpts:

A number of countries — including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia — have reported major decreases in prisoner numbers as a result of pandemic-related factors such as reductions in crime, more leniency from authorities on bail applications, and tighter regulations around incarceration.  Legal experts have heralded the statistics as a cause for optimism, while at the same time warning that the numbers could rise again once societies return to some semblance of the old normal.  And many have therefore suggested that, if nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic could signal an opportunity for nations to rethink the way they operate their criminal justice systems.

These are the facts. Between March and June, more than 100,000 people were released from state and federal prisons in the United States—a decrease of 8 percent, according to a nationwide analysis by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.  In the whole of 2019, that same prison population decreased by just 2.2 percent.

Between March and July, 4,435 people were released from prisons in England and Wales — a decrease of about five percent. Between March and June, France released some 14,000 inmates — a decrease of about 23 percent — and between February and May, Italy, one of the first countries to experience the devastation of the pandemic on a national scale, released some 7,850 inmates — a decrease of about 15 percent.

Australia, meanwhile, saw the adult prison population drop by almost 11 percent in the state of New South Wales between mid-March and mid-May, and almost 13 percent in the state of Victoria between the end of February and the end of June.  These are the two most populous states in the country, as well as the two worst-affected by COVID-19....

Taken altogether, these figures reveal that the global pandemic has, overall, led to a positive development in the way criminal justice systems operate around the world.  The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have meant less people being incarcerated and detained unnecessarily.  And experts are calling for it to stay that way.

“This is absolutely a chance for countries to rethink the way they run their justice system,” Professor Lorana Bartels, Program Leader of Criminology at the Australian National University, told Vice News via email. “It should compel renewed attention to addressing underlying factors that contribute to crime and reoffending, including insecure housing, mental health (in particular, trauma), substance abuse, education, and employment.

“Especially as economies struggle, finding equally effective but much cheaper alternatives to prison will be imperative.”...

“This is a positive development,” said Professor Bartels. “There is no clear link between imprisonment rates and crime rates, and these decreases are a reminder that an inexorable rise in our use of imprisonment is neither beneficial, nor inevitable… there are better (and cheaper) ways of approaching criminal justice issues.”

August 10, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Making sure not to look past or become numb to persistently ugly pandemic realities in incarceration nations

It has now been a couple of weeks since I did a round-up of prison-COVID press pieces. To their credit, the press and commentators keeping reporting and discussing the discouraging tales that keep emerging from our prisons and jails.  But I cannot help but find, as we enter the sixth month of this pandemic, that it has become disconcertingly easier to become numb to these persistently depressing stories.  Eager not to look past these still critical realities, here is a round-up of just a few headlines and pieces catching my eye recently:

From CBS News, "More than 500 inmates at Arizona prison test positive for COVID-19, according to corrections officials"

From the Chicago Tribune, "2 dead at Marion federal prison during COVID-19 surge despite restrictive conditions, say inmates and family members"

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, "COVID cases climb in Ohio prisons, worrying families and those employed to serve prisoners"

From CNN, "Inside the federal prison where three out of every four inmates have tested positive for coronavirus"

From Forbes, "As Bureau of Prisons Enters “Phase 9” Of COVID-19 Plan, BOP Staff Wonder If There Is A Real Plan"

From News Junkie, "Prisons and Parties Drive Connecticut’s Coronavirus Case Numbers"

From the Orlando Sentinel, "Many who have died of COVID-19 in Florida’s prisons were eligible for parole"

From the Washington Post, "The Federal Bureau of Prisons response to the coronavirus has been disastrous and deadly"

August 8, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Notable Prison Policy Initiative update on pandemic changes to prison and jail populations

Prison Policy Initiative published yesterday this great updated analysis (with lots of helpful charts and data visuals) of jail and prison populations changes amid the pandemic.  The full title of this publication captures the essence of the analysis: "Jails and prisons have reduced their populations in the face of the pandemic, but not enough to save lives:  Our updated analysis finds that the initial efforts to reduce jail populations have slowed, while the small drops in state prison populations are still too little to save lives."  Here are some of the data highlights:

At a time when more new cases of the coronavirus are being reported each day, state and local governments should be redoubling their efforts to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails, where social distancing is impossible and the cycle of people in and out of the facility is constant.  But our most recent analysis of data from hundreds of counties across the country shows that efforts to reduce jail populations have actually slowed — and even reversed in some places.

Even as the pandemic has spiked in many parts of the country, 71% of the 668 jails we’ve been tracking saw population increases from May 1st to July 22nd, and 84 jails had more people incarcerated on July 22nd than they did in March.  This trend is particularly alarming since we know it’s possible to further reduce these populations: in our previous analysis, we found that local governments initially took swift action to minimize jail populations, resulting in a median drop of more than 30% between March and May.

Meanwhile, state prisons — where social distancing is just as impossible as in jails, and correctional staff still come and go every day — have been much slower to release incarcerated people.  Since January, the typical prison system had reduced its population by only 5% in May and about 13% as of July 27th....

Some states’ prison population cuts are even less significant than they initially appear, because the states achieved those cuts partially by refusing to admit people from county jails.  (At least two states, California and Oklahoma, did this.)
While refusing to admit people from jails does reduce prison density, it means that the people who would normally be admitted are still incarcerated, but in different correctional facilities that have more population turnover and therefore more chances for the virus to spread.

Other states are indeed transferring people in prison to outside the system, either to parole or to home confinement, but these releases are not enough to protect vulnerable incarcerated populations from COVID-19.  For example, in California, thousands of people have been released weeks and months early, but the state’s prison population has only decreased by about 11% since January, leaving too many people behind bars in the face of a deadly disease.

Of the states with available data, the smaller systems have reduced their populations the most drastically. North Dakota’s prison population had already dropped by 19% in May. (North Dakota was also the state that we found to have the most comprehensive and realistic COVID-19 mitigation plan in our April 2020 survey.) Two months later, North Dakota has continued these efforts, reducing its prison population by a total of 25% since January, a greater percent change than any other state.

August 7, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Effective review of messiness of federal compassionate releases amidst COVID

BuzzFeed News has this great lengthy new piece on the messy realities of federal compassionate release realities during the pandemic. The full headline of the piece, which I recommend in full, provides a summary: "'I Had Hit The Lottery': Inmates Desperate To Get Out Of Prisons Hit Hard By The Coronavirus Are Racing To Court: With little legal precedent for a global pandemic, judges are deciding on a case-by-case basis how to weigh the risks of COVID-19 in prisons."  Here is an excerpt:

A BuzzFeed News review of more than 50 cases filed in the federal district court in DC showed that with little precedent for a flood of release requests during a pandemic, decisions about who gets out of prison and who does not can appear arbitrary. Prisoner advocates and defense lawyers say these cases can come down to the luck of the draw, with some judges proving to be more sympathetic than others.

Judges are making medical assessments about how much of a threat COVID-19 poses to an individual inmate and then deciding how to balance that against the public safety risk of sending that person back into the community; inmates are usually released to home confinement or under the supervision of a probation officer. And judges are reaching different conclusions about how to measure an inmate’s risk of exposure in state and federal prisons, which have seen some of the worst clusters of COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Boykin is one of more than 800 inmates who have been granted compassionate release by a federal judge since March, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Another 7,000 federal inmates have been released by the BOP to home confinement in the same period, after Attorney General Bill Barr directed the bureau to prioritize using its own release power for eligible inmates to minimize the spread of COVID-19. More than 150,000 federal inmates remain incarcerated.

Thousands of inmates are still exploring options to get out. Families Against Mandatory Minimums, just one of the groups that connect inmates with pro bono legal assistance, has fielded more than 3,000 requests for help since the start of the pandemic. They’ve been able to match approximately 1,200 inmates and family members with lawyers.

“We were hoping ... that judges would not want to be a party to this ongoing, slow massacre in the prisons. And they’re not, and that’s good,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring. However, he said, when it comes to how judges are analyzing release requests, “it’s not consistent across jurisdictions — there are some judges who have been stricter and some who have been more lenient.”

August 7, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Reviewing how California got under 100,000 prisoners, a huge cut from modern high and the lowest since the 1980s (but still above designed capacity)

This lengthy San Francisco Chronicle piece, headlined "How California reduced its inmate population to a 30-year low," reports on the remarkable modern decline in the prison population in the state of California. Here are some highlights:

California’s prison population of 99,000 is its lowest since 1990 and 74,000 below its peak in 2006. Court rulings, new state laws and policies on imprisonment, and changes in voters’ attitudes have all contributed to the reduction, which has not led to any statewide increase in crime.  But the events look somewhat different through a broader historical lens. In 1976, the state’s prison population was 20,000, and the crime rate was only slightly higher than it is today.

What followed were decades of lockup laws, ballot measures — notably the “three strikes” initiative of 1994 — and policies by a series of governors, starting with Jerry Brown, whose more recent actions were crucial to the state’s turnaround. The surge in incarceration drove California to open 22 new prisons between 1984 and 2013, bringing the total to 35.  Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced plans to close two prisons in the next three years.

“California was at the forefront of both the prison building boom and tough-on-crime sentencing,” said Michael Romano, who teaches law at Stanford, directs the law school’s Three Strikes Project, and has been appointed by Newsom to head a committee examining possible further rollbacks in the state’s sentencing laws.  “To this day, people are serving life sentences for shoplifting batteries, stealing a kid’s bike, possession of drugs.”

When Brown first took office in 1975, prison sentences in California were largely controlled by the parole board — a felony was punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison, 5 to 10, or 7 to life, for example — and the board decided when an inmate was suitable for release, based on the inmate’s record and prison conduct.  The system, in effect since 1917, had become unpopular on both sides of the aisle.  Conservatives said inmates convicted of serious crimes were released too early, while many liberals said the parole board was biased against minorities and the poor.

In 1976, with bipartisan support, Brown signed a “determinate sentencing” law that established a range of fixed terms for nearly all crimes — two, four or six years, for example — and let the judge choose the sentence. The inmate could get time off for good behavior in prison, but, except for some convicted murderers and a few other categories, would never see a parole board.

While the new system made sentences more uniform, it also invited lawmakers, and voters, to increase punishment. A steady stream of laws over the next three decades made imprisonment mandatory for many crimes and added years to sentences for a defendant’s past convictions, gang affiliation, drug dealing and gun use, expanding five-year terms to 20 or 25 years in some cases. Initiatives bearing titles such as the Victims’ Bill of Rights (1982) and the Crime Victims’ Justice Reform Act (1990) limited defendants’ rights to challenge prosecutions and police conduct.  And in 1994, after 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered by a man with a felony record, state lawmakers and voters passed the nation’s first three strikes law. For defendants with two previous convictions for serious or violent felonies, the law required a sentence of 25 years to life for a new felony conviction, which could include shoplifting in some cases. If the defendant had one prior serious or violent felony conviction, the sentence for a new felony would be doubled.

The sentencing overhaul “was well-meaning and there was some rationale in trying to create equity among sentences and avoid disparities, particularly racial disparities,” said Stanford’s Romano, whose panel is scheduled to make its proposals to Newsom in January. “But it created this one-way ratchet of longer and longer sentences.”  Unsurprisingly, California’s prison population soared, exceeding 100,000 in 1990 and topping out at 173,000 in 2006....

The pushback began in the early 1990s, when prisoners filed class-action suits over prison health care and treatment of disabled and mentally ill inmates. Federal judges initially ordered improvements in the care systems, but saw little progress in prisons with too many inmates and too few resources.

In 2005, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the state to transfer prison health care management to a court-appointed receiver, saying shoddy care was killing more than one inmate per day.  Although the state had reduced its prison population after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an emergency, in 2009 a three-judge panel, citing ongoing health care deficiencies, ordered California to lower imprisonment by an additional 40,000, to 137.5% of designed capacity — an order upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

Brown, after being elected to his third term as governor in 2010, responded to the court order with a legislatively approved plan to sentence thousands of lower-level felons to county jails instead of state prisons, an approach titled “realignment” that lowered the prison population without reducing sentences.  But the governor also supported some rollbacks in sentencing laws, and three measures have won approval from voters:

  • Proposition 36 of 2012, which narrowed the three strikes law by imposing a 25-to-life sentence only if the third felony was serious or violent.
  • Prop. 47 of 2014, which reduced nonviolent, small-scale property thefts and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • Prop. 57 of 2016, a Brown-sponsored measure that allowed the parole board to consider releasing inmates who were convicted of nonviolent felonies and have completed their sentences for those crimes, before serving additional years for past convictions and other increases tacked on by post-1976 sentencing laws.

Those measures showed that “the people were way ahead of the politicians in focusing on rehabilitation and in ending mass incarceration,” said Donald Specter, executive director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in the health care case.

That assessment will be tested in November when voters will consider Prop. 20, an initiative sponsored by prosecutors and police groups that would repeal many of the sentencing changes in Prop. 47.

The final factor in the recent reduction in imprisonment was the coronavirus pandemic. With infections soaring in still-crowded penal institutions and heightened by a bungled transfer of infected prisoners to San Quentin, Newsom has temporarily halted transfer of newly sentenced inmates from county jail to state prison and ordered early releases that have reduced inmate totals statewide by 8,000.

Despite the changes, California prisons are still more than 16% above their designed capacity of 89,663, according to state officials. Further reductions would require further changes in sentencing and treatment of certain categories of inmates — for example, the mentally ill. “Are we ready to say that people with serious mental illness and health problems should be cared for in society?” asked Michael Bien, a lawyer for mentally ill inmates who initially sued the state over their treatment in 1990.

August 6, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

By 5–4 vote, Supreme Court stays Orange County jail to implement certain COVID safety measures

This evening the Supreme Court, voting 5-4 along the "usual" lines, issued a stay to block an order requiring a local jail in California to implement certain safety measures to provide greater COVID protection to inmates.  The majority's order is just a paragraph and includes no reasoning, but Justice Sotomayor's eight-page dissent has a lot to say.  Here is how it starts and ends:

Today, this Court steps in to stay a preliminary injunction requiring Sheriff Don Barnes and Orange County (collectively, the Orange County Jail, or Jail) to implement certain safety measures to protect their inmates during the unprecedented COVID–19 pandemic.  The injunction’s requirements are not remarkable.  In fact, the Jail initially claimed that it had already implemented each and every one of them.  Yet, apparently disregarding the District Court’s detailed factual findings, its application of established law, and the fact that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has twice denied a stay pending its review of the District Court’s order, this Court again intervenes to grant a stay before the Circuit below has heard and decided the case on the merits....  The Jail’s application does not warrant such extraordinary intervention.  Indeed, this Court stays the District Court’s preliminary injunction even though the Jail recently reported 15 new cases of COVID– 19 in a single week (even with the injunction in place), even though the Jail misrepresented under oath to the District Court the measures it was taking to combat the virus’ spread, and even though the Jail’s central rationale for a stay (that the injunction goes beyond federal guidelines) ignores the lower courts’ conclusion that the Jail’s measures fell “well short” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines...

At the time of the injunction, there were nearly 3,000 inmates still in the Jail’s care, 488 of whom were medically vulnerable to COVID–19.  “[H]aving stripped them of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to outside aid, the government and its officials” must “‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the[ir] safety.’”  Farmer, 511 U.S., at 832–833; see also Valentine v. Collier, 590 U.S. ___, ___–___ (2020) (statement of SOTOMAYOR, J.) (slip op., at 6–7) (“It has long been said that a society’s worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons. That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm”).  The District Court found that, despite knowing the severe threat posed by COVID–19 and contrary to its own apparent policies, the Jail exposed its inmates to significant risks from a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.  Yet this Court now intervenes, leaving to its own devices a jail that has misrepresented its actions to the District Court and failed to safeguard the health of the inmates in its care.  I respectfully dissent.

August 5, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advocacy groups urge Congress to include provisions to safeguard incarcerated persons in latest COVID bill

COVID19-State-Prisons-5AUG20-2048x1152A variety of leading advocacy groups sent this detailed letter to congressional leaders yesterday to advocate for "critical provisions to protect the health and safety of incarcerated individuals in the COVID-19 response package currently being negotiated."  Here is a portion of the first part of the six-page letter:

While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded the Federal Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) authority to release individuals to home confinement, BOP and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have failed to exercise this authority. BOP and DOJ have been negligent in meeting Congress’ charge to quickly and safely reduce the prison population and minimize the spread and harm of COVID-19 for incarcerated persons and correctional staff.  Therefore, more is urgently required to address the alarmingly high infection rates occurring in correctional facilities across the nation.

As Congress works to provide additional relief for individuals impacted by the pandemic, it has a moral obligation to extend that relief to all of our most vulnerable — the elderly, the sick, those without medical care, and those unable to protect themselves from the virus — including those who are incarcerated.  We urge you to prioritize the health and wellbeing of incarcerated people and their families by incorporating the five recommendations outlined below in the next stimulus package.

The letter closes with detailed advocacy for these five action items:

It is therefore absolutely critical that Congress act swiftly to address the issues facing incarcerated individuals in the next COVID-19 relief package.  At a minimum, such legislation should include:

1. Provisions that will dramatically reduce pretrial and prison populations....

2. An expansion of court authority to release individuals in BOP Custody....

3. Increases in the availability of home detention for elderly people....

4. Provisions that facilitate essential communication with counsel....

5. Additional support at the federal, state, and local level to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus....

UPDATE: I just saw this notable new posting by The Council of State Governments Justice Center which highlights the continued urgency of these issues (and has the graphic I have added to this post).  The analysis is titled "COVID-19 Cases in State Prisons Grew by 12 Percent Every Week Last Month," and here is how it begins:

A new analysis by The Council of State Governments Justice Center shows that states are continuing to battle the growing spread of COVID-19 in their correctional facilities, with the number of positive cases in prisons rising 12 percent each week over the last month.

While states with some of the largest prison populations — such as Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio—are seeing cases increase, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Delaware appear to have the highest proportion of COVID-19 infections among people incarcerated in their state prisons.

The following graph shows how the total number of cases is growing in state prisons across the country, and the maps below offer state-by-state data on how the virus is taking shape in these facilities.

August 5, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

"The Effect of Incarceration on Mortality"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper just posted to SSRN authored by Samuel Norris, Matthew Pecenco and Jeffrey Weaver. Here is its abstract:

This paper analyzes the effect of incarceration on mortality using administrative data from Ohio between 1992 and 2017.  Using event study and difference-in-differences approaches, we compare mortality risk across incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals before and after pre-scheduled releases from prison.  Mortality risk halves during the period of incarceration, with large declines in murders, overdoses, and medical causes of death.  However, there is no detectable effect on post-release mortality risk, meaning that incarceration increases overall longevity.  We estimate that incarceration averts nearly two thousand deaths annually in the US, comparable to the 2014 Medicaid expansion.

August 4, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 03, 2020

Important reminders that federal prisons remain problematic and deadly COVID hotspots

Today my inbox got two dispiriting reminders that federal prisons are still struggling in many awful ways with the coronavirus pandemic.  One reminder came from this new Washington Post piece headlined "Frail inmates could be sent home to prevent the spread of covid-19.  Instead, some are dying in federal prisons." I recommend the full piece (which discusses numerous compassionate release cases), and here are excerpts:

The Bureau of Prisons said 25 people have died in its custody this year while their requests for sentence reduction were under consideration, including 18 since March 1, around the time the coronavirus began spreading in U.S. communities.

To fight the virus’s spread, Attorney General William P. Barr in late March directed federal prisons to send vulnerable, low-risk inmates to home confinement or release them outright. According to the Bureau of Prisons website, about 7,000 inmates, or about 4 percent of its 160,000-inmate population, have been sent home since.

But the bureau has largely disregarded one method it has to release inmates, a procedure that seems ideally suited for the coronavirus pandemic — compassionate release. Part of bipartisan legislation passed in 2018, compassionate release was intended as a way to swiftly grant release to inmates who are terminally ill or for other “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Yet even as it has released some prisoners to home confinement, the bureau routinely has opposed or not responded to requests for compassionate release.

In 50 cases decided in early July, for example, the bureau opposed 38 compassionate release requests or did not respond to them, and the requests were denied by courts, which make the final decision. The bureau also opposed 10 cases that courts eventually granted. Only in two cases did the agency agree to a release before a court intervened. In an email, bureau spokesman Justin Long said the bureau “has been proceeding expeditiously” on compassionate release requests....

The ACLU and other advocates for prisoners sued the bureau in May, seeking the release of as many Butner inmates as needed to allow for social distancing. “What’s alarming in all these institutional cases is how slow and sluggish the system has been to respond,” said Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which joined the lawsuit.

In a court document dated June 11, bureau officials said that since Barr’s guidance was released, 42 inmates at Butner — about 1 percent of the prison’s population — were transferred to home confinement, and nine were transferred to halfway houses. The number of compassionate releases from Butner was not readily available, BOP said.

A second reminder came in the form of this new fact sheet from the Federal Public Community Defenders titled "The Worsening COVID-19 Crisis in Federal Detention."  This two-page document (with lots of links) should also be read in full, and here is its opening paragraphs:

COVID-19 is ripping through the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), infecting incarcerated individuals at a rate 5.95 times higher than the general population.  This crisis is occurring in a system that, due to structural racism, is disproportionately populated by Black and Hispanic people.  And Attorney General Barr and BOP are using a risk assessment tool (PATTERN) — that likely has an outsized negative impact on Black men — to prioritize eligibility for home confinement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not provided demographic data on the individuals BOP has approved for home confinement, despite congressional demands, and the only public data it has provided on PATTERN indicate just 7% of Black men qualify compared to 30% of white men. As the public rises to demand a reckoning with institutional racism, we cannot allow these conditions to persist.

On June 2, BOP Director Carvajal told Congress “We are beginning to flatten the curve.”  He was wrong.  BOP reports at least 107 deaths of incarcerated individuals.  The highest number of deaths in BOP prisons have occurred in Texas (currently the site of the three worst federal prison outbreaks in the country), North Carolina, California, Ohio, Kentucky, and Louisiana.  Some of these deaths were surely preventable.  BOP’s press releases reveal that the majority of these individuals — 83 — were known to be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.  Over a quarter of the people who have died in BOP’s care were seventy years old or older. But they were never moved to a place of safety. And at least five died after asking — and some even being approved — for compassionate release or home confinement

August 3, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Terrific (though necessarily incomplete) list of great books on American prisons

New York magazine has this great new piece headlined "The Best Books on the American Prison System, According to Experts."  For many reasons, I would be inclined to call this list a "great books" list rather than a "best books" list; there are many awesome texts in this genre not making the list.  For example, I adore The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, though perhaps it did not make the list because it is an edited collection.  And The Decline of the Rehabilitative Ideal: Penal Policy and Social Purpose by Frances Allen was extremely important when authored three decades ago and is arguably even more timely now amidst our persistent and ever-evolving era of mass incarceration.  I am showing my age by flagging these older books, but there are also many more recent texts about that I also think of as "modern classics" in this arena.

These quibbles aside, I am pleased to see New York magazine highlighting more than a dozen terrific books in this article.  Here is some of the text previewing the list that follows:

Along with calling for an end to police brutality, recent protests following the murder of George Floyd have brought attention to another national crisis that disproportionately affects people of color: mass incarceration.  According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 2.3 million people (or 20 percent of the world’s prison population) are incarcerated in the United States, and while Black people make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of prisoners are Black.  Millions more are on probation or parole, facing restrictions on housing, employment, and, in many states, the right to vote.

Like police violence against people of color, this isn’t a new issue.  Activists and scholars like Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore have been arguing for the abolition of prisons for decades. But if you want to further educate yourself, we asked 11 scholars, lawyers, and activists what books they recommend for those seeking a deeper understanding.

Since mass incarceration is entangled with issues of race, gender, sexuality, and economics, we sought out experts with diverse perspectives on the topic who could recommend books addressing the prison system from all angles.  Our panel includes Jeffrey Adler, professor and author of Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing; Paul Butler, law professor and author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men; Robert Chase, professor and author of We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners’ Rights in Postwar America; David C. Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project; author and professor Shaun L. Gabbidon, Kali Nicole Gross, professor and co-author of A Black Women’s History of the United States; Sarah Haley, professor and author of No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity; Elizabeth Hinton, professor and author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America; Jen Manion, professor and author of Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America; law professor Jocelyn Simonson; and Caleb Smith, professor and author of The Oracle and the Curse: A Poetics of Justice from the Revolution to the Civil War.

As in all our reading lists, the 14 books below come recommended by at least two of our experts. These titles cover the origins of our prison system, those who have been affected by incarceration, and the growing resistance movement. While we’ve separated the books into categories, it’s important to keep in mind that there are intersections and overlaps between topics. For example, a book about the history of prison in America is inevitably a book about race, while a book about race and prison will include discussions of resistance movements.

August 1, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2020

"The Prisoner and the Polity"

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

All punishment comes to an end.  Most periods of imprisonment are term limited, and ninety-five percent of prisoners will eventually leave prison.  Though it is tempting to think of the “end” in concrete, factual terms — for example, as the moment when the prisoner is released — this concept also has normative dimensions.  Core to the notion of term-limited imprisonment is the “principle of return”: the idea that, when the prisoner has completed his or her time, that person is entitled to return to society.  Yet, for the principle of return to be meaningful, it must include the idea of a fair chance of reestablishing oneself in the community.  The “practices of incarceration” — including the prison environment and prison programs — are thus critically important because they can either facilitate or impede a prisoner’s reentry into society.  However, apart from the question of whether conditions of confinement are cruel and unusual as defined by the Eighth Amendment, these practices of incarceration have largely avoided scholarly scrutiny.

This Article uses the case study of higher education programs in prison to expose the interdependence between the practices of incarceration and the principle of return.  Drawing on original interviews with key stakeholders, it investigates how the features of higher education programs reflect and reinforce core beliefs about the goals of punishment and the state’s responsibility towards those it incarcerates.  The Article critically examines the dominant harm-prevention justification for prison higher education, and the desert-based objection to it, finding that both are inadequate for failing to take into account the principle of return.

This Article espouses an alternative approach that would recognize the ongoing relationship between prisoner and polity and devise incarceration practices accordingly.  Building on insights from communitarian theory, this approach, which foregrounds the prisoner’s status in the polity, uncovers pervasive “us-versus-them” narratives in the prison context. The first such narrative is between prisoners and those members of the polity who view prisoners, falsely, as having forfeited their claims to membership in civil society.  This view of prisoners, as members of a permanent and lower caste, is in direct conflict with the principle of return, which mandates that prisoners have at least a plausible hope of basic reintegration into society and that they avoid further harm — what might be termed “punishment-plus.”  The Article also scrutinizes a second, more localized “us-versus-them” narrative between prisoners and correctional officers, which arises from their similar backgrounds and the common deprivation experienced by members of both groups.

Finally, the Article recommends institutional design changes to mitigate “us-versus-them” dynamics: empowering stakeholders, for example, by affording correctional officers educational opportunities that would help professionalize their role and ease their resentment towards prisoners; and increasing exposure and empathy between incarcerated and non-incarcerated populations, such as by piloting a program that would employ recent college graduates to teach in prison.  These and other proposed reforms would refocus the conversation around imprisonment to account for the central role of incarceration practices in revitalizing the principle of return, as well as the inextricable connection between prisoner and polity.

July 31, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Federal prison population, per BOP reporting, now down to 157,862

Regular readers are used to my regular Thursday morning updates on COVID-era changes in the federal prison population based on the federal Bureau of Prisons' weekly updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers.  This week's update suggests again that the federal prison population might be getting closer to flattening out as we see a decline that is considerably lower than in weeks past.  But the decline continues and remains significant.

This prior post detailed that, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through April the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week; through May, as detailed here, the pace of weekly decline increased to an average of around 1,200 fewer reported prisoners; through June, as detailed here, declines continued at a slightly reduced rate of about 950 fewer persons reported in all federal facilities on average per week.  As of the last week of July, we have hit another new historic low with the new BOP numbers at this webpage reporting "Total Federal Inmates" at 157,862.  But this represents a decline of "only" 543 persons from last week's total of 158,405, which had been a decline of only 433 persons from the previous week's reported total.  Put another way, it took two weeks in the second part of July to see the roughly 1000 person drop in the prison population that we were seeing each week in earlier months. 

I remain inclined to guess that more COVID-delayed sentencings and stalled federal prison transfers may now be moving forward; but the lack of any real-time data from the US Sentencing Commission and the opaque nature of BOP data make it hard to be sure just what the reported population numbers represent.  I am hopeful that we will eventually get some sentencing data from the USSC that can help us better understand these prison data, but now five months into the pandemic the USSC still seems in no rush to provide any inkling of how the federal criminal sentencing process has been impacted. 

A few of many prior related posts:

July 30, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"Will The Reckoning Over Racist Names Include These Prisons?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting Marshall Project piece.  Here is a snippet:

While the killing of George Floyd has galvanized support for tearing down statues, renaming sports teams and otherwise removing markers of a (more) racist past, the renewed push for change hasn’t really touched the nation’s prison system. But some say it should. Across the country, dozens of prisons take their names from racists, Confederates, plantations, segregationists, and owners of slaves. “Symbols of hate encourage hate, so it has been time to remove the celebration of figures whose fame is predicated on the pain and torture of Black people,” said DeRay McKesson, a civil rights activist and podcast host.

Some candidates for new names might be prisons on former plantations. In Arkansas, the Cummins Unit—now home to the state’s death chamber—was once known as the Cummins plantation (though it’s not clear if the namesake owned slaves). In North Carolina, Caledonia Correctional Institution is on the site of Caledonia Plantation, so named as a nostalgic homage to the Roman word for Scotland....

James E. Ferguson — namesake of the notoriously violent Ferguson Unit [in Texas near Huntsville — was a governor in the 1910s who was also an anti-Semite and at one point told the Texas Rangers he would use his pardoning power if any of them were ever charged with murder for their bloody campaigns against Mexicans, according to Monica Muñoz Martinez, historian and author of “The Injustice Never Leaves You.” Ferguson got forced out of office early when he was indicted and then impeached. Afterward, he was replaced by William P. Hobby, a staunch segregationist who opposed labor rights and once defended the beating of an NAACP official visiting the state to discuss anti-lynching legislation. Hobby, too, has a prison named after him....

To many experts, the idea of changing prison names feels a bit like putting lipstick on a pig: No matter what you call it, a prison is still a prison. It still holds people who are not free. They are still disproportionately Black and brown. “If you are talking about the inhumanity, the daily violence these prisons perform, then who these prisons are named after is useful in understanding that,” Martinez said. “But what would it do to name it after somebody inspiring? It’s still a symbol of oppression.”

But to Anthony Graves, a Texas man who spent 12 years on death row after he was wrongfully convicted of capital murder, the racist names are a “slap in the face of the justice system itself.” New names could be a powerful signal of new priorities. “At the end of the day the mentality in these prisons is still, ‘This is my plantation and you are my slaves,’” he said. “To change that we have to start somewhere and maybe if we change the name we can start to change the culture.”

July 29, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Death Row Narratives: A Qualitative Analysis of Mental Health Issues Found in Death Row Inmate Blog Entries"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now on SSRN authored by Robert Johnson and Jacqueline Lantsman.  Here is its abstract:

Death row inmate narratives, culled from online blogs, are used to explore the social determinants of mental health in the context of the stresses and deprivations of living on death row.  Legal and correctional procedures that affect death row inmates are conceptualized as social determinants of mental health.  These procedures include the granting or denying of stays of execution, conditions of solitary confinement during death row and particularly the death watch, and impending dates of execution.  Death row narratives offer a nuanced account of the many ways condemned prisoners must contend with their powerlessness as an essential element of life under sentence of death.

July 28, 2020 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2020

"Decarceration and Crime During COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new online report from the ACLU.  Here is how the short report gets started:

COVID-19 presents an enormous risk to those in carceral facilities and their surrounding communities. Since the pandemic began, more than 50,000 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 600 have died. These infections and deaths were largely preventable, as we demonstrated in April by working with academic partners to build an epidemiological model that illustrated the deadly threat of COVID-19 in jails. In response to this crisis — and in many localities, only after substantial public pressure and threats of litigation — some governors, sheriffs, and judges made the decision to shift detention policies to prioritize protecting the lives of those who live and work in jails and prisons. Some states and localities reduced low-level arrests, or set bail to $0 for certain charges. Others released a small subset of incarcerated people who were nearing the end of their term or were most vulnerable to the disease — sometimes under court order.

While no jail system has gone far enough, county jails and state prison systems across the U.S. have taken differing levels of action, allowing for a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between decarceration and crime in the community. To explore this, the ACLU’s Analytics team looked for data on jail population and crime in locations with the largest jail and overall populations. We were able to find reported data on both from 29 localities. (Crime data more recent than May was not readily available during analysis.)

Nearly every county jail that we examined reduced their population, if only slightly, between the end of February and the end of April. Over this time period, we found that the reduction in jail population was functionally unrelated to crime trends in the following months. In fact, in nearly every city explored, fewer crimes occurred between March and May in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, regardless of the magnitude of the difference in jail population.

We found no evidence of any spikes in crime in any of the 29 locations, even when comparing monthly trends over the past two years.  The release of incarcerated people from jails has saved lives both in jails and in the community, all while monthly crime trends were within or below average ranges in every city. 

July 27, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Looking for broader relief and reforms for elderly prisoners in wake of Roger Stone clemency

In recent posts here and here, I have stressed the fact that Prez Trump's explained his decision to commute Roger Stone 's prison sentence in part by stressing that he "is a 67-year-old man, with numerous medical conditions" who "would be put at serious medical risk in prison" and "has already suffered greatly."  Those sound sentencing considerations could and should help justify releasing from prison many more (lower-profile) elderly offenders these days, and the latest issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter highlights the humanitarian and fiscal reasons why the aging of our prison populations was a pressing concern even well before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

I note these posts and points again because of this effective new Law360 piece headlined "After Stone Clemency, Activists Rally For Elder Parole."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

While Democrats and even some Republicans have questioned the ethics of Trump's decision [to commute Stone's prison term], others have highlighted how the same logic should be applied to thousands of other aging people, many of whom have actually served years and even decades of their sentences.... Roughly 288,800 people over age 50 currently live in state and federal prisons, and an estimated 70% of them have a current chronic illness or serious medical condition, according to the Alliance for Safety and Justice.

Older people make up the fastest-growing population within U.S. state and federal prisons, which have become hot spots for the viral contagion that is increasingly deadly the older its host.  A recent study found that people in prison are 550% more likely to get COVID-19 and 300% more likely to die from it.  So far, at least 625 imprisoned people have died from the virus.

Criminal justice reformers aiming to decrease the country's world-leading incarceration rate have advocated for years that aging people should be considered for early release or parole, considering the often inadequate health care available in correctional facilities as well as the fact that, generally speaking, the older you are, the less likely you are to commit another crime. Older people also cost more, per capita, to incarcerate.

Those calls have been amplified in the wake of widespread protests against racial injustice in the legal system. Last week, hundreds of New Yorkers marched in Manhattan to demand the state Legislature pass a package of bills, including one that would make people who've served at least 15 years eligible for parole at age 55. A related bill would grant parole to anyone eligible unless there is "a current and unreasonable risk" the person would break laws if released....

One of the easiest methods of releasing people, including the elderly, from dangerous prisons is the executive clemency power, which some governors have wielded more widely during the pandemic.  Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, for example, has commuted more than 20 state prisoners' sentences since March.  In his first year in office, he commuted just three sentences.  In April, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham commuted the sentences of 46 people convicted for low-level crimes who were within 30 days of being released; Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted 450 sentences that same month.

But while some governors have been actively exercising clemency powers, Trump's commutation for Stone marked his first since declaring a pandemic.  Stone reportedly has asthma and a history of respiratory conditions that makes him vulnerable to COVID-19; in late June, he posted social media videos saying "incarceration at a facility with COVID-19 during a pandemic is a deep state death sentence."...

Instead of granting more people clemency, Trump's response to the threat COVID-19 poses to people in prison has come via U.S. Department of Justice policies.  In March, his administration instructed the Bureau of Prisons to release more people to home detention and to consider the medical risks of holding people in pretrial detention amid rising prison COVID-19 infection counts.  According to a BOP spokesperson, 6,997 people have been placed on home confinement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — approximately 4% of the federal prison system's 158,838-person population.

Another method of release during the pandemic has been "compassionate release," a sentence reduction typically reserved for the terminally ill or severely medically compromised.  The 2018 First Step Act, Trump's signature criminal justice achievement, made it easier to seek such releases, but only about 150 people were able to take advantage over the first 14 months of the law.  During the pandemic, that number has more than quadrupled as incarcerated people, judges and even prosecutors have mobilized to decrease prison populations, but the grand total of 776 is still a fraction of of the BOP's 158,838-person population — 20% of which is people over age 51, four months into a deadly pandemic....

Judges, for their part, have "definitely been more willing to grant compassionate release due to COVID-19," according to Amy Povah, a formerly incarcerated activist who runs Can-Do Clemency. But she added that some judges are still denying release, even in cases where people are particularly at risk of infection. "We're extremely concerned about medically compromised people who cannot socially distance in prison," she said. "They don't have the proper personal protective equipment.  Most of them, from what I understand, do not have hand sanitizer.  A lot of them are improvising by cutting up T-shirts because there's not enough masks."... Povah, who is advocating for clemency for Riojas and dozens of others, said the Stone commutation was a signal that the president is aware of the plight aging people in prison face amid the pandemic. "It gives me hope," she said.

I am not as hopeful as Amy Povah that Prez Trump is giving much thought to the plight aging people in prison face amid the pandemic.  That said, though I continue to want to (foolishly?) imagine that Prez Trump might recall the adulation he received after his clemency grant to Alice Marie Johnson and then seek some positive press by granting clemency to, say, lifer marijuana offenders assembled at the Life for Pot website.  

Wanting to be hopeful, I think about the possibility that the new bill from Senators Durbin and Grassley, the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act, could get incorporated into the latest COVID response legislation working its way through Congress.  This bill would give both BOP and federal judges broader discretion to send elderly prisoners home earlier; this authority makes sense even without an on-going pandemic and is even more important and urgent now.

A few of many prior related posts:

July 27, 2020 in Clemency and Pardons, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Rounding up some more recent prison stories

It has been only a week since I did this round-up of prison pieces, but the press and commentators are keeping these critical stories coming (in part because, sadly, discouraging tales about the realities of prison keep coming). So here is another round-up of some more headlines and pieces catching my eye recently:

July 24, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Federal judge rules Michael Cohen must be released back into home confinement

As reported in this CNBC piece, a "federal judge on Thursday ordered the release from prison of President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen by Friday afternoon."  Here is why:

Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that Cohen was sent back to prison on July 10 in retaliation for failing to agree a day earlier to not to publish a book about Trump as one of multiple conditions for serving the remainder of his three-year prison term on home confinement.  Cohen had been furloughed from prison in late May due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.  Shortly before being taken into custody he had been posting on social media about his upcoming book, which is going to be critical of Trump.

“I’ve never seen such a clause, in 21 years in being a judge,” Hellerstein said at a Manhattan federal court hearing, where he questioned the condition that Cohen not publish a book while in home confinement.  “How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory? “the judge asked at the hearing, which was held in response to Cohen suing to win his re-release from prison.

During the hearing, the judge was highly skeptical to arguments by a federal prosecutor that Cohen was not locked up in retaliation for the book, or that the condition of not writing a book was not sought for a specific reason.  At one point, when another prosecutor tried to come to the aid of the prosecutor who was answering the judge’s questions, Hellerstein angrily cut him off, reminding him of the rule that only one lawyer argued for each side in a case.

Cohen, who has been in quarantine in the prison in Otisville, N.Y., since his arrival there, will be released by 2 p.m. after begin tested for the coronavirus, and will be driven back to his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by his son, Hellerstein said. After his release into home confinement, he will be subject to a number of restrictions on his movement and employment and contact with other people.  But the restriction sought by federal Probation officials that he not speak to reporters, post on social media, or publish a book, is likely to be largely gutted.

Cohen’s lawyer and a prosecutor will in coming days negotiate the issue of any restrictions on Cohen dealing with the media.  Hellerstein suggested it would be inappropriate for Cohen to host a press conference in his apartment with a large number of reporters to discus his book while at the same time still serving his criminal sentence....

Hellerstein noted that court filings by both prosecutors and Cohen’s lawyers agree on a key point: that Cohen and his lawyer, after taking issue with at least one of the conditions, about the book, were left in a room along at some time by a Probation officer, and then confronted by Bureau of Prison officials who arrived to take him into custody.  Hellerstein also repeatedly said that Probation officials had not given Cohen a warning that if he did not agree to all the conditions presented to him at a July 9 meeting with his lawyer that he would be sent back to prison.  “Mr. Cohen was never given a chance to say, ‘If this is it, I will sign,’ ” Hellerstein said.

Prior Michael Cohen posts:

July 23, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Declines in federal prison population, per BOP reporting of "Total Federal Inmates," trending lower

Regular readers are used to my regular Thursday morning updates on COVID-era changes in the federal prison population based on the federal Bureau of Prisons' weekly updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers.  After months of historic declines, it appears that the federal prison population might be getting closer to flattening out as this week's decline is much lower than we have seen in weeks past.

This prior post detailed that, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through April the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week; through May, as detailed here, the pace of weekly decline increased to an average of around 1,200 fewer reported prisoners; through June, as detailed here, declines continued at a slightly reduced rate of about 950 fewer persons reported in all federal facilities on average per week.  As of late July, we have hit another new historic low with the new BOP numbers at this webpage reporting "Total Federal Inmates" at 158,405.  But this represents a decline of "only" 433 persons from last week's reported total of 158,838, and that number was itself a decline of "only" 854 persons from the prior week's total of 159,692. 

I am inclined to guess that more COVID-delayed sentencings and stalled federal prison transfers may now be moving forward; but the lack of any real-time data from the US Sentencing Commission and the opaque nature of BOP data make it hard to be sure just what the reported population numbers represent.  I am unsure just what to predict for the federal prison population in the weeks and months ahead, though I am sure I will keep following this notable echo of our persistent pandemic problems.  

A few of many prior related posts:

July 23, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Back by popular demand, another VERY long list of federal sentence reductions using § 3582(c)(1)(A)

It has now been a full two wees since I set out this holiday weekend listing of new grants of federal sentence reductions using § 3582(c)(1)(A).  The delay in producing a new list is not because of a lack of grants.  In fact, the updated numbers on this BOP page on the FIRST STEP Act suggests that roughly 70 sentence reductions are being granted by federal district courts each week: BOP reported 706 grants of "Compassionate Releases / Reduction in Sentences" three weeks ago, then reported 774 total grants as of two weeks ago, and it now reports 916 total grants. 

Only a portion of these sentence reduction grants end up on Westlaw, but I have heard from a number of readers that my listings are still appreciated.  So, without further ado, I am pleased to highlight dozens and dozens of additional recent grants here.  Because it has been two weeks since my last list, this one will be quite lengthy:

United States v. Grant, No. 16-30021-001, 2020 WL 4036382 (CD Ill. July 17, 2020)

United States v. Burton, No. 18-cr-00094-JSW-1, 2020 WL 4035067 (ND Cal. July 17, 2020)

United States v. Hendry, No. 2:19-cr-14035-ROSENBERG, 2020 WL 4015487 (SD Fla. July 16, 2020)

United States v. Watkins, No. 15-20333, 2020 WL 4016097  (ED Mich. July 16, 2020) 

United States v. Mabry, No. 14 CR 116-1, 2020 WL 4015315 (ND Ill. July 16, 2020)

 

United States v. Kirschner, No. 1:10-cr-00203-JPH-MJD, 2020 WL 4004059 (SD Ind. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Burt, No. 90-80492, 2020 WL 4001906 (ED Mich. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Calimer, No. DKC 02-0177, 2020 WL 4003288 (D Md. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Arceo, No. 5:09-cr-00616-EJD-1, 2020 WL 4001339 (ND Cal. July 15, 2020)

United States v. England, No.CR 18-61-GF-BMM, 2020 WL 4004477 (D Mont. July 15, 2020)

 

United States v. Mines, No. 4:18-cr-00552, 2020 WL 4003048 (ND Oh. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Edwards, No. 5:15-cr-00339, 2020 WL 4003050 (ND Oh. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Fluellen, No. 1:15-cr-00435, 2020 WL 4003039 (ND Oh. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Neal, No. 5:15-cr-00339, 2020 WL 4003049 (ND Oh. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Berry, No. 09-CR-90-JPS, 2020 WL 4001932 (ED Wisc. July 15, 2020)

 

United States v. Hayes, No. 17-20292, 2020 WL 4001903 (ED Mich. July 15, 2020)

United States v. Anello, No. 2:12-cr-00131-RAJ, 2020 WL 3971399 (WD Wash. July 14, 2020)

United States v. Torres, No. 19-cr-20342-BLOOM, 2020 WL 4019038 (SD Fla. July 14, 2020)

United States v. Collins, No. 15-10188-EFM, 2020 WL 3971391 (D Kan. July 14, 2020)

United States v. Evans, No. 18-cr-00308-WHO-1, 2020 WL 3971620 (ND Cal. July 14, 2020)

 

United States v. Mitchell, No. 4:13-cr-20468, 2020 WL 3972656 (ED Mich. July 14, 2020)

United States v. Pompey, No. CR 97-0638 RB, 2020 WL 3972735 (D N.M. July 14, 2020)

United States v. Amaro, No. 16 Cr. 848 (KPF), 2020 WL 3975486 (SDNY July 14, 2020)

United States v. Furlow, No. 2:06-CR-20020-01, 2020 WL 3967719 (WD La. July 13, 2020)

United States v. Fletcher, No. TDC-05-0179-01, 2020 WL 3972142 (D Md. July 13, 2020)

 

United States v. Fortson, No. 1:18-cr-00063-TWP-MJD, 2020 WL 3963729 (SD Ind. July 13, 2020)

United States v. Osborne, No. 1:07CR00019-002, 2020 WL 3958500 (WD Va. July 13, 2020)

United States v. Reed, No. 09-160 (PAM), 2020 WL 3960251 (D Minn. July 13, 2020)

United States v. Barajas, No. 18-CR-736-04 (NSR), 2020 WL 3976991 (SDNY July 13, 2020)

United States v. White, No. CCB-09-369, 2020 WL 3960830 (D Md. July 10, 2020)

 

United States v. Leal, No. 12-20021-05-KHV, 2020 WL 3892976 (D Kan. July 10, 2020)

United States v. Van Praagh, No. 1:14-cr-00189-PAC-1, 2020 WL 3892502 (SDNY July 10, 2020)

United States v. Hernandez, No. 10-CR-1288-LTS, 2020 WL 3893513 (SDNY July 10, 2020)

United States v. Collins, No. 10-cr-00963-1, 2020 WL 3892985 (ND Ill. July 10, 2020)

United States v. Smith, No. 04-CR-2002-CJW-MAR, 2020 WL 3913482 (ND Iowa July 10, 2020)

 

United States v. Paz, No. 92-172, 2020 WL 3958481 (D N.J. July 10, 2020)

United States v. Spencer, No. 04 Cr. 1156 (PAE), 2020 WL 3893610 (SDNY July 10, 2020)

United States v. Jones, No. 13-cr-577-2, 2020 WL 3892960 (ED Pa. July 9, 2020)

United States v. Croft, No. 95-496-1, 2020 WL 3871313 (ED Pa. July 9, 2020)

United States v. Gonzalez Quiroz, No. 18-CR-4517 (DMS), 2020 WL 3868751 (SD Cal. July 9, 2020)

 

United States v. Crawford, No. 2:18-cr-00075-3, 2020 WL 3869480 (SD Oh. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Davis, No. 3:10-cr-99 (SRU), 2020 WL 3843682 (D Conn. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Grubbs, No. CR16-228 TSZ, 2020 WL 3839619 (WD Wash. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Devine, No. 3:17cr228 (JBA), 2020 WL 3843716 (D Conn. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Gutierrez, No. 98-279(8) (JRT/AJB), 2020 WL 3839831 (D Minn. July 8, 2020)

 

United States v. Steffey, No. 2:12-cr-0083-APG-GWF, 2020 WL 3840558 (D Nev. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Jelinek, No. 15-20312, 2020 WL 3833125 (ED Mich. July 8, 2020)

United States v. Barnes, No. 3:13-CR-117-TAV-HBG-1, 2020 WL 3791972 (ED Tenn. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Erickson, No. 18-245(3) (DWF/HB), 2020 WL 3802823 (D Minn. July 7, 2020)

United States v. McRae, No. PJM 10-0127, 2020 WL 3791983 (D Md. July 7, 2020)

 

United States v. Mueller, No. 2:08-cr-00139-AB-1, 2020 WL 3791548 (ED Pa. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Bradley, No. 2:14-CR-00293-KJM, 2020 WL 3802794 (ED Cal. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Reyes-De La Rosa, No. 5:18-CR-55, 2020 WL 3799523 (SD Tex. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Mishler, No. 19-cr-00105-RS-2, 2020 WL 3791590 (ND Cal. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Tate, No. 17-cr-30037, 2020 WL 3791467 (CD Ill. July 7, 2020)

 

United States v. Ramsey, No. 18-CR-163, 2020 WL 3798938 (ED Wisc. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Hayes, No. 09 CR 1032, 2020 WL 3790615 (ND Ill. July 7, 2020)

United States v. Adeyemi, No. 06-124, 2020 WL 3642478 (ED Pa. July 6, 2020)

United States v. Adams, No. 3:04-CR-30029-NJR, 2020 WL 3639903 (SD Ill. July 6, 2020)

United States v. Bennett, No. 15-260(10) (PAM/TNL), 2020 WL 3638696 (D Minn. July 6, 2020)

 

Some of many prior recent related posts on CR grants:

July 19, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Perspectives from A to Z on how to reform incarceration nation

Though there is still plenty more to say about how the coronavirus is continuing to course through our nation's jails and prisons, I was pleased to see this week a number of new commentaries discussing prison and criminal justice reform more generally.  Notably, this round-up of pieces include works from sources that start with A and that start with Z, so here is a collection of pieces that all seem worth a midsummer read from A to Z:

From America: The Jesuit Review, "Religious ideals shaped the broken U.S. prison system. Can they also fix it?"

From Fast Company, "Here’s How We Get to a World Where We Don’t Need Prisons at All"

From The Morning Call, "We need justice system that values people"

From Salon, "Abolishing the whole prison-industrial complex"

From the Washington Times, "Keeping families together must be a priority for the criminal justice system"

From ZDNet, "Can technologists help end mass incarceration?: Data-driven approaches to criminal justice often backfire. Here's one way to do it right."

July 19, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Notable headlines about COVID and lots more in incarceration nation

As we enter month five of the US coronavirus crisis, it is disturbingly easy to become numb to how this pandemic is playing out in jails and prisons.  Helpful, the press and commentators are keeping these critical stories covered, along with other comparable discouraging tales about the realities of prison punishment in the US.  Here is a round-up of just some headlines and pieces catching my eye today:

July 17, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Important review of just why "Prison Populations Drop by 100,000 During Pandemic"

The quoted portion of the title of this post comes from the headline of this Marshall Project piece that has its theme in the subtitle: "But not because of COVID-19 releases."  The article chronicles nationwide what seems to be the story at the federal level, namely that prison populations are going down largely because a lot fewer people are going in, not so much because a lot of new people are coming out.  Here are the details:

There has been a major drop in the number of people behind bars in the U.S.  Between March and June, more than 100,000 people were released from state and federal prisons, a decrease of 8 percent, according to a nationwide analysis by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.  The drops range from 2 percent in Virginia to 32 percent in Rhode Island.  By comparison, the state and federal prison population decreased by 2.2 percent in all of 2019, according to a report on prison populations by the Vera Institute of Justice.

But this year’s decrease has not come because of efforts to release vulnerable prisoners for health reasons and to manage the spread of the virus raging in prisons, according to detailed data from eight states compiled by The Marshall Project and AP.  Instead, head counts have dropped largely because prisons stopped accepting new prisoners from county jails to avoid importing the virus, court closures meant fewer people were receiving sentences and parole officers sent fewer people back inside for low-level violations, according to data and experts.  So the number could rise again once those wheels begin moving despite the virus....

While many people may be qualified for early releases, very few actually got out.  In April, Pennsylvania launched a temporary reprieve program, allowing the state’s corrections department to send people home under the condition that they return to finish their sentences once the pandemic passes.  The governor’s office predicted more than 1,500 would be eligible for release.

So far, the state's corrections department has recommended 1,200 people for reprieves, but the application process is slow and tedious, said Bret Bucklen, the department’s research director.  Each application needs approval from the governor, the secretary of corrections and the assistant district attorney who oversaw the initial conviction.  Nearly three months later, fewer than 160 people have been released through the reprieve program, while Pennsylvania’s total prison population dropped by 2,800.

As in Pennsylvania, data from states such as North Carolina, Illinois and New Jersey shows coronavirus releases only account for less than one-third of the decrease in prison population, which suggests something else is driving the drop.  According to Martin Horn, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former corrections commissioner for New York City, the pandemic has slowed the entire criminal justice system, which means fewer people are going to prisons...

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a senior research analyst at the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for sentencing reform, said that while the prison population decreases are a step in the right direction, she is disappointed by the numbers.  Even if the COVID-19 release policies work as intended, they might not lower the prison population enough because states often exclude violent offenders from such releases, Ghandnoosh said.  “Even though we are sending too many people to prison and keeping them there too long, and even though research shows people who are older have the highest risk from COVID-19 and the lowest risk of recidivism, we are still not letting them out,” Ghandnoosh said.

July 16, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal prison population, according to BOP report of "Total Federal Inmates," now at 158,838

Another Thursday morning calls for another COVID-era check on the federal Bureau of Prisons' updated "Total Federal Inmates" numbers; we continue to see historic declines, though this week's decline is a bit lower than we have seen in weeks past.  This prior post detailed that, according to BOP's reporting, most weeks through April the federal prison population shrunk around or over 1,000 persons per week; through May, as detailed here, the pace of weekly decline increased to an average of around 1,200 fewer reported prisoners; though June, as detailed here, declines continued at a slightly reduced rate of about 950 fewer persons reported in all federal facilities on average per week.

As of mid-July, we have hit another new historic low as the new BOP numbers at this webpage report "Total Federal Inmates" at 158,838.   This total represents a decline of 854 persons from last week's total of 159,692.  (For more recent context, the BOP reported population dropped from 163,441 (as of June 11) to 162,578 (as of June 18) to 161,640 (as of June 25) to 160,690 (as of July 2).) 

Because of the disconcerting reality that the COVID-19 crisis does not seem to be letting up, especially in large jurisdictions that generate lots of federal criminal cases like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, I doubt these federal prison population declines are going to reverse anytime soon.  This new AP article discussing prison populations declines more generally highlights that "head counts have dropped largely because prisons stopped accepting new prisoners from county jails to avoid importing the virus, court closures meant fewer people were receiving sentences and parole officers sent fewer people back inside for low-level violations."  It seems to me unlikely that these trends will stop in the near future.

A few of many prior related posts:

July 16, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Notable new polling and report on juve sentencing and punishment

I just saw that the folks at Data for Progress, The Justice Collaborative Institute, and Fair and Just Prosecution have produced this notable new report titled "A Majority of Voters Support an End to Extreme Sentencing for Children," on which the CFSY was consulted and offered support. The report discusses findings from two national polls indicating much of the public supports significant reform in juvenile sentencing and punishment. Here is part of its executive summary:

Extreme sentences have contributed to the United States being the number one incarcerator in the world — disparately impacting and devastating communities of color — and juvenile life-without-parole sentences are among the most draconian ongoing practices in our country.  These sentences essentially abandon young people to die in prison, despite the fact that children have great potential for rehabilitation and are deserving of second chances.

While a series of Supreme Court decisions in the past decade has altered the landscape of juvenile life-without-parole sentences, there are still too many men and women looking at spending the rest of their lives in prison for acts they committed as youth.  Juvenile life-without-parole sentences also contribute to the racial disparities in the criminal legal system overall: 80 percent of people serving life sentences for crimes they committed as youth are non-white.  More than 50 percent are Black.

But public discourse is shifting.  Reform that ends juvenile life-without-parole sentences is both popular with the public and simple common sense. Community members across the ideological spectrum understand that young people have the capacity to change, and want the justice system to rehabilitate young people, rather than imprison them for life.  Two recent national polls conducted by Data For Progress found that a majority of voters believe no one who committed a crime as a child should be sentenced to life in prison without the hope or the opportunity for a second chance.  Fewer than a third of voters disagree.

As the public conversation considers the future of policing and the meaning of public safety, criminal justice leaders must use this as an opportunity to think more broadly about the entire criminal justice system and make critical changes, especially changes that are sensible, supported by science, and in furtherance of racial equity.  There is no better place to begin than to give young people a chance at redemption and end juvenile life-without-parole.

July 15, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)