Sunday, January 26, 2020

"The Cruelty of Supermax Detention and the Case for a Hard-Time Sentencing Discount: A Pragmatic Solution to a Moral Shortcoming Which Is Otherwise Unlikely to Be Fixed"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Mirko Bagaric and Jen Svilar now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

We should send offenders to prison as punishment, not for punishment.  This principle is currently being violated in relation to approximately 60,000 offenders who are caged in ‘supermax’ prison conditions in the United States.  Many of these prisoners spend up to 23 years in a small cell with no contact with any person.  The conditions are traumatic. Emerging evidence demonstrates that these conditions cause considerable psychological and physical harm to prisoners.  Understandably, there are growing calls to abolish confinement of this nature.  However, there are no signs that abolition of supermax conditions will occur soon.  Despite this, it is incontestable that the deprivation experienced by prisoners can vary considerably, depending on the strictness of the prison regime in which the prisoner is confined.  Prisoners subjected to supermax conditions suffer considerably more than those in conventional prison conditions.

In this Article, we make recommendations regarding the manner in which prison conditions should impact the length of a prison term.  We suggest that for most prisoners, every day spent in supermax conditions should result in two days’ credit towards the expiration of the prison term.  Hard-time credits are justified by the principle of proportionality, which stipulates that the seriousness of the crime should be matched by the hardship of the penalty.  The main cohort of prisoners that should not be eligible for hard time credits are serious sexual and violent offenders who are at risk of re-offending, as determined by the application of a risk assessment instrument.  Infringement of the proportionality principle is justified in these circumstances because of the more pressing need to pursue the ultimate aim of sentencing: community protection.

Providing hard-time credits for most prisoners who are forced to endure supermax conditions will not overcome the ethical problems associated with this form of detention — which are especially acute given that African American and Hispanic inmates are disproportionality subjected to supermax confinement.  However, the reform proposed in this Article will provide a pragmatic solution to a considerable failing in our sentencing and prison systems and operate to make authorities less inclined to subject prisoners to cruel conditions in a manner that does not compromise community safety.

January 26, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Sentencing Project reports briefly on "Top Trends in State Criminal Justice Reform, 2019"

The folks at The Sentencing Project have this helpful new short brief reviewing "Top Trends in State Criminal Justice Reform, 2019." The four-page document starts and ends this way:

The United States is a world leader in incarceration and keeps nearly 7 million persons under criminal justice supervision.  More than 2.2 million are in prison or jail, while 4.6 million are monitored in the community on probation or parole. More punitive sentencing laws and policies, not increases in crime rates, have produced this high rate of incarceration.  Ending mass incarceration will require changing sentencing policies and practices, scaling back the collateral consequences of conviction, and addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.  In recent years most states have enacted reforms designed to reduce the scale of incarceration and the impact of the collateral consequences of a felony conviction.  This briefing paper describes key reforms undertaken in 2019 prioritized by The Sentencing Project....

During 2019, lawmakers in several states enacted legislative changes to address high levels of imprisonment. While the reforms help improve criminal justice policy, most measures will have a modest impact on the scale of incarceration.  It will take more far-reaching measures to markedly reduce the nation’s rate of incarceration, which is far above that of other western nations. Given the limited impact of incarceration on crime, there is potential for significant reductions in state prison populations.  Lawmakers and advocates should explore key changes that limit the use of incarceration, challenge racial disparity, address collateral consequences, and improve outcomes for justice-involved youth.

January 17, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Justice Department announces new FIRST STEP Act developments and data

Via this press release, titled "Department of Justice Announces Enhancements to the Risk Assessment System and Updates on First Step Act Implementation," DOJ reported today on various new FIRST STEP realities. Here are excerpts from the press release:

The Department of Justice announced several significant developments in the implementation of the First Step Act (FSA) in a report published today [which is available here]...

Some of the key developments are described here:

  • In accordance with the First Step Act and due on Jan. 15, 2020, all inmates in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system have received an initial assessment using the Justice Department’s risk and needs assessment tool known as the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Need (PATTERN). Initially released last July, the tool is designed to measure risk of recidivism of inmates.
  • As of Jan. 15, 2020, inmates will be assigned to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs and productive activities based on an initial needs assessment conducted by BOP. Participation and completion of those assigned programs and activities can lead to placement in pre-release custody or a 12-month sentence reduction under the First Step Act. A list of these programs will be published on the BOP’s website.
  • In response to the public comments received and in coordination with the Independent Review Committee (IRC), the Justice Department has made changes to PATTERN that enhance its effectiveness, fairness and transparency....
  • The department will also begin a pilot program to publish recidivism data and other First Step Act updates on a quarterly basis....

Implementation Progress, New and Expanded BOP Programs Under FSA.

The FSA provides for eligible inmates to earn time credits if they participate and complete assigned evidence-based recidivism reduction programs or productive activities. It also provides for the expansion of existing programs that allow for compassionate release and home confinement.

Releases for Good Conduct Time.  In July 2019, over 3,100 federal prison inmates were released from the Bureau of Prisons’ custody as a result of the increase in good conduct time under the Act.

Retroactive Resentencing.  The Act’s retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (reducing the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine threshold amounts triggering mandatory minimum sentences) has resulted in 2,471 orders for sentence reductions.

Compassionate Release.  The BOP updated its policies to reflect the new procedures for inmates to obtain “compassionate release” sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582 and 4205(g).  Since the Act was signed into law, 124 requests have been approved, as compared to 34 total in 2018.

Expanded Use of Home Confinement.  The FSA authorizes BOP to maximize the use of home confinement for low risk offenders.  Currently, there are approximately 2,000 inmates on Home Confinement.  The legislation also expands a pilot program for eligible elderly and terminally ill offenders to be transitioned to Home Confinement as part of a pilot program.  Since enactment of the law, 379 inmates have been approved for participation under the pilot program.

Drug Treatment.  The BOP has always had a robust drug treatment strategy. Offenders with an identified need are provided an individualized treatment plan to address their need.  In FY 2019, approximately 14,800 offenders enrolled in Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), almost 21,000 offenders enrolled in Non-residential drug treatment, and almost 23,000 offenders participated in Drug Education.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).  The FSA requires BOP to assess the availability of and the capacity to treat heroin and opioid abuse through evidence-based programs, including medication-assisted treatment.  In the wake of the opioid crisis, this initiative is important to improve reentry outcomes.  Every inmate within 15 months of release who might qualify for MAT has been screened.

Effective Re-Entry Programming.  FSA implementation includes helping offenders successfully reintegrate into the community -- a critical factor in preventing recidivism and, in turn, reducing the number of crime victims.  Finding gainful employment is an important part of that process.  In furtherance of this goal, the BOP launched a “Ready to Work” initiative to connect private employers with inmates nearing release under the FSA.

Other BOP programs directed towards the full implementation of the FSA include the operation of twenty pilot dog programs, the development of a youth mentoring program, the identification of a dyslexia screening tool, and issuance of a new policy for its employees to carry and store personal weapons on BOP institution property.

January 15, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The economic and moral costs of our inhumane prison system"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Washington Examiner commentary authored by Arthur Rizer.  Here are excerpts:

In the U.S., we say we care about human dignity and rehabilitation. We say we want to promote public safety.  But our actions show a different reality. As a result, the American incarceration system produces little benefit to either those caught within the system or those forced to pay for it.

Mississippi, for example, houses more inmates on a per capita basis than nearly any other state in the country.  The reason has nothing to do with crime rates there but rather with how the state chooses to address crime.  Mississippi’s draconian habitual-offender laws have resulted in thousands of people serving decades in prison. Because these laws require prison sentences even for minor, nonviolent offenses, the punishment is often severely disproportionate to the underlying conduct.  A person can be sentenced to die in prison for possessing marijuana if they have two prior convictions — even if one conviction was for something as minor as shoplifting.

The conditions in Mississippi prisons are an added affront to America’s purported commitment to protecting human dignity.  Indeed, stories and photos of prison conditions at the state’s Parchman Farm penitentiary that were leaked earlier this year prompted Families Against Mandatory Minimums to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division demanding an investigation into the facility’s “unsafe conditions, violence, weapons, and understaffing.”

Unsurprisingly, U.S. prisons are also extraordinarily deadly.  Last year, more than 75 people died in Mississippi Department of Corrections custody — 16 in August alone. In 2019, the number of prisoner deaths spiked again.  Overcrowding, inadequate resources, and a focus on retribution over rehabilitation all contribute to an environment that is an affront to human dignity.

We pay not only a moral cost for this ineffective and inhumane system but also an economic one. Mississippi spends nearly $1 million a day on its prison system. But that money is not spent on making sure people are prepared to become productive members of society, so it is no surprise that many people return to prison after they are released. Warehousing people in prisons and then releasing them into society without any support, training, or opportunity rarely results in success....

Germans have a fundamentally different way of thinking about corrections. Article 1 of Germany’s postwar Constitution states that human dignity is “inviolable,” and one sees this value implemented nowhere more clearly than in the German approach to incarceration....  To Germans, the loss of freedom, not cruel treatment or inhumane prison conditions, is the punishment.  And that loss is administered for the shortest time necessary.  Approximately 75% of prison sentences are for 12 months or less, and 92% of sentences are for two years or less.  Compare this to the U.S., where the approximate average sentence is three years.

For Germans, corrections are not about humiliation or retribution.  They are about healing.  This means that their focus is squarely on rehabilitation.  Normalization, or making life in prison closely resemble life in a community, and preparation for reentering society take precedence over everything else.  Similarly, resocialization replaces isolation. Instead of simply treating inmates as potential problems, guards act as motivators and actively create a positive culture within the prison community.  By learning to respect the humanity of those within their care, the guards play an integral role in preparing those in prison for reentering their communities....

In our approach to criminal justice and corrections, we have fallen behind other major countries in the world.  Like the Germans, we have to change the way we think about our correctional systems.  Reforming Mississippi’s habitual sentencing laws and commuting overly harsh sentences would be a good place to start.

January 15, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reviewing uncertainty still surrounding earned-time credits created by the FIRST STEP Act

Alan Ellis, Mark Allenbaugh, and Nellie Torres Klein have this new Bloomberg Law piece headlined "The First Step Act — Earned Time Credits on the Horizon." The piece is an important reminder that, even a full year after the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act, there is still uncertainty surrounding the operation of one of the biggest part of the legislation.  Here are excerpts:

One of the remaining programs to be implemented under the First Step Act is set to begin shortly, enabling some prisoners to earn time credits. But some impediments still exist. As of January, all inmates in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody will have undergone an initial assessment pursuant to implementing a new risk and needs assessment program pursuant to the First Step Act.

By January 2022, it is anticipated the BOP will begin providing all eligible inmates recidivism reduction programming based on their identified needs.  As an incentive for participating in such programming, the First Step Act directs that eligible inmates be able to earn time credits which, while not expressly reducing their sentence, under some circumstances can be used toward increasing pre-release custody (e.g., halfway house and/or home confinement).  The BOP has stated it will post available programming opportunities on its website soon....

In theory, these time credits can then be redeemed by eligible inmates for early transfer into a halfway house, home confinement, or supervised release.  Earned time credits thus do not reduce a prisoner’s sentence, per se, but rather allow eligible prisoners to serve their sentence outside prison walls.

Importantly, potentially large categories of inmates will not be eligible to receive earned time credits based on the crime they committed.  Additionally, non-citizens with immigration detainers will not be able to benefit.... Offenders who complete rehabilitative programs serving sentences for offenses not eligible to receive earned time credits are nonetheless eligible for other incentives including increased telephone and email time, expanded visitation and more options at the commissary.  Incentives for privileges will be decided by individual wardens at each institution.

The current limits on time in a halfway house (up to 12 months) and home confinement (six months or 10% of the sentence, whichever is less) will not apply to earned time credits.  Thus, a person can be released to a halfway house and/or home confinement even earlier, meaning, inmates can spend more than 12 months in a halfway house or more than ten percent of their sentence in home confinement after accumulating earned time credits....

If properly implemented, this aspect of the First Step Act could not only significantly lower the number of inmates in an already over-crowded and under-staffed system, but actually reduce recidivism and thereby provide important insights to criminal justice professionals and legislators on best practices for keeping people out of prison.  As of now, no one can earn time credits for completing the program or productive activities until the DOJ completes and releases PATTERN, and the BOP creates or expands existing evidence-based programming or productive activity.  As a result, earned time credits received prior to the implementation of the Risk Assessment Tool will not be eligible for redemption until the Tool is implemented.

Unfortunately, the ability to start earning credits may not actually come for most prisoners until even later than that, depending on how long it takes the BOP to apply PATTERN and create programming and productive activities and assign prisoners to them.  PATTERN was the subject of a House Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing where some experts expressed concern about its “racial bias and lack of transparency, fairness, and scientific validity.” 

The DOJ has been somewhat circumspect as to how close PATTERN is to being finalized, stating only that it “is currently undergoing fine-tuning.”  Nonetheless, indications are that inmates will begin being scored under a preliminary version soon.

Another potential impediment to full implementation will be the availability of half-way house beds.  In certain parts of the country, there is a shortage of available half-way house beds for federal inmates.  The act did not mention any additional funding or resources for the BOP to implement this program.  This obviously could potentially delay or otherwise limit the implementation of other aspects of the program.  Congress’ intent under the First Step Act is well-intentioned, but without adequate funding, it may not benefit qualifying inmates it was designed to serve.

January 10, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Noting the discouraging connection between criminal justice involvement and overdose deaths

This recent Connecticut Mirror piece, headlined "From prison to the grave: Former inmates now account for more than half of all drug overdose deaths in Connecticut," spotlights the disconcerting link between involvement with the criminal justice system and overdose deaths:

Accidental drug overdose deaths tripled in Connecticut between 2010 and 2018, with the proportion of overdose victims with prior involvement in the criminal justice system slowly increasing during that time.

Former inmates account for more than half of the people who died from drug overdoses between 2016 and 2018, according to an analysis of new state data. In 2015, this same group made up 44% of the people who died from an overdose.

Officials with the Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division discovered the uptick in drug deaths among former inmates when examining data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Correction.

While the data shows an overlap between criminal justice involvement and overdose deaths, many details are still missing.  While officials believe the majority of the overdose deaths are from fentanyl, for example, OPM did not specify this in its analysis.  There has been a dramatic increase in fentanyl-related deaths statewide over the past half-decade, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  Of 1,017 opioid deaths last year, 75% involved fentanyl. In 2012, fentanyl deaths accounted for 4% of the total.

There are other unanswered questions, as well. “We don’t know whether they were admitted pretrial or served a sentence,” said Marc Pelka, Gov. Ned Lamont’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy and planning. “We don’t know how soon after their release they experienced an accidental drug overdose death.”

Pelka said his office likely would do a deeper dive into the data to learn more about the intersection between arrests and overdose fatalities.  Even without that detail, however, the data is startling, officials said.  “I hope that this whole commission really understands what this shows. Because I’m seeing this come across my desk every day,” Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook told his colleagues on the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission during a recent presentation on the data.  Cook said one of his jobs is to sign off on investigations into overdose deaths of people who have been released from prison but are still under state supervision.

Those reports, Cook said, often show the overdose victims were attending recovery programs and adhering to the terms of their parole.  “They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do,” he said. “Yet we’re still losing them. They’re dying.”

People released from prison are at greater risk of certain early deaths compared to the general population.  Research shows people who get out of prison are 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose within two weeks of their release than those who haven’t spent time behind bars.  In Connecticut, white ex-prisoners are more likely to die from drug overdoses, while black former inmates are more likely to die by homicide....

The overlap between criminal justice system involvement and addiction makes sense to Louis Reed, an organizer for the national criminal justice reform group Cut 50.  Criminal records function as scarlet letters, making it hard for people to secure housing or land jobs even after their sentences have ended. “The moment they get a door slammed in their face they most likely are going to go right back to what it is they felt was more comfortable to them,” Reed explained.  Using drugs after a long period of sobriety while incarcerated also poses problems, said Reed. Tolerances decrease when people don’t use for a while.  That puts them at risk of an accidental overdose because their first hit “shocks their system.”

January 5, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 03, 2020

"The Effectiveness of Prison Programming: A Review of the Research Literature Examining the Impact of Federal, State, and Local Inmate Programming on Post-Release Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research document authored by James Byrne on Behalf of the First Step Act Independent Review Committee. (Backgound on this important Committee can be found at this link.)  I do not believe that this Committee has yet produced much original substantive material, and I am not sure if this new 42-page research document (which is dated Dec. 2019) is a sign of more to come.  In any event, here is its introduction:

The First Step Act emphasizes the importance of BOP programming as a recidivism reduction strategy and includes sentence-reduction incentives for eligible inmates who participate in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programs.”  This memorandum reviews available research about the recidivism reduction effects of federal, state, and local prison programming in an attempt to determine to what extent such programming can fairly be described as evidence-based.  There are three distinct types of reviews that can be used to establish evidentiary criteria and determine “what works” in the area of prison programming (Byrne and Luigio, 2009).  The most rigorous such review would focus narrowly on the results of high quality, well-designed randomized control trials (RCTs) conducted during a specified period.  A minimum of two RCTs demonstrating effectiveness (and a preponderance of lower-level research studies producing similar results) would be necessary before a determination could be offered about whether a particular program or strategy “worked.”  This is the type of review strategy and scientific evidence relied on in the hard sciences.

A second review strategy allows identification of a program as evidence-based (or working) if there are at least two quasi-experimental studies with positive findings, and the majority of lower-quality studies point in the same direction.  This is the approach used in the reviews produced by the Campbell Collaborative.  A variation on this approach — representing a third type of evidence-based review — is found on the DOJ CrimeSolutions.gov website, where a program will be described as effective based on a rating of each applicable research study by two independent reviewers.

To be rated as effective, at least one high quality evaluation — RCT or well-designed quasi-experiment — needs to be identified.  This memorandum adopts the second standard described above to summarize the research under review (see Appendix B), but we have also examined all studies and reviews of prison programs identified by CrimeSolutions.gov.

Included in this review is a careful look at the available evaluation research on the BOP programming, focusing on the 18 “national model” prison programs identified by BOP.  Also included in this review is an examination of the much larger body of evaluation research conducted on the recidivism reduction effects of state and local prison programs.  This memorandum offers summary assessments of all relevant evaluation research and corresponding recommendations for DOJ and BOP to consider as they move to implement high quality, evidence-based programming in the federal prison system.

And here is a key paragraph labelled "Conclusion" after a detailed substantive discussion (with emphasis in original):

Completion of prison programming by federal prisoners does appear to provide an important signal that these individuals have begun to address — via BOP programming — problems that we know are linked to criminality: substance abuse, mental health deficits, and lack of education and/or employment skills.  However, a careful review of the evaluation research strongly suggests that the likely effects of participation in current prison programming on both treatment outcomes (i.e. improvement in identified need areas) and post release behavior are—statistically speaking—significant but marginal (i.e. about a .10 absolute difference between treatment and control groups is the likely result were these programs rigorously evaluated).  While prison programming is certainly one piece of the desistance puzzle, it appears that individuals will desist from crime upon release from prison based on a variety of individual and community level factors not directly related to the availability and/or quality of prison programming.  For this reason, accurate prison-based risk/need classification that links inmates at different risk/need levels to appropriate evidence-based prison programming should be followed by evidence-based reentry programming (Cullen, 2013).  While this report focuses on prison programming, we recognize the critical role of reentry programming and community context (e.g. structure, support, resources, location) in the desistance process.

January 3, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Deep dive into parole history and modern parole practice in California

The New York Times Magazine has this very long new piece on parole under this full headline "Can You Talk Your Way Out of a Life Sentence?: California is giving a second chance to thousands of inmates who had no hope of parole. But first they have to prove to a panel of strangers that they’ve truly changed." The lengthy piece merits a full read, and here is a snippet from its early sections:

The modern idea of basing a prisoner’s release on evidence of his or her rehabilitated character can be traced to 1870, when the inaugural meeting of the newly formed American Prison Association took place in Cincinnati. There, representatives from 25 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada adopted a declaration of principles, among them that prisoners should be rewarded for good conduct and that a “prisoner’s destiny should be placed, measurably, in his own hands.” To achieve this, they argued, “sentences limited only by satisfactory proof of reformation should be substituted for those measured by mere lapse of time.”

By 1922, nearly every state in the union had adopted indeterminate sentencing, in which judges hand out sentences that are formulated as a range of years — a minimum and a maximum amount of time to be served. The responsibility for deciding exactly when in this range an inmate had been rehabilitated enough to be released was vested in state parole boards. (The federal penal system has its own early-release process.)

Over the next half century, it became clear that there was an intrinsic tension between the high-minded notion that inmates should be in control of their own destinies, by deciding whether or not to reform, and the practical difficulty of determining whether they had actually done so. By the 1970s, the discretionary parole system was under attack. Liberals argued that a parole board’s broad leeway allowed racial and class biases to rule unchecked. Conservatives argued that parole boards were releasing dangerous felons who then went on to commit more crimes. A rising national crime rate made the public increasingly dubious of the paternalistic promises of a rehabilitative system.

Over time, some states got rid of parole entirely, while others drastically increased the minimum amount of time an inmate would need to serve before becoming eligible to go before a board. In Georgia, for example, inmates who received a life sentence for a serious crime committed before January 1995 became eligible for parole after seven years. Those who have received a life sentence for a crime committed after June 2006 don’t become eligible for parole until they’ve served 30 years.

But discretionary parole continues to exist in most states, even if it’s often limited to a small pool of longtime inmates whose lengthy periods of incarceration have consigned them to near-oblivion. Conducted by panels of political appointees with varying levels of professional expertise, little accountability and almost unlimited discretion, parole hearings rarely garner attention except when a high-profile inmate comes up for parole.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that inmates who have been sent to prison for life have no due-process right to be released unless the wording of their state’s parole statute created one. In the absence of such rights, parole decisions can be remarkably arbitrary. A 2017 survey of paroling authorities by the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School found that 41 percent of parole boards never make public the logic behind a parole denial, and at least seven states don’t require their parole boards to provide a written explanation for their denial to the parole-seeking inmate. Prisoners are often unable to see the file that the parole board bases its decisions on — in Alabama and North Carolina, inmates are not even allowed to be present for the hearing. While every state except Kentucky and New Mexico allows inmates to have a lawyer at their hearing, very few states will pay for one, which means only a tiny minority of inmates have a lawyer with them at their hearings. “You have about 3 percent of the procedural rights before a parole board as you would in a courtroom,” says Kevin Reitz, the Robina Institute’s former co-director.

All of this makes discretionary parole a far cry from the equation proposed in 1870, in which demonstrated behaviors would result in predictable outcomes. Instead, Reitz has found that parole commissioners are dominated by fears of releasing an inmate who goes on to commit a terrible crime. That’s exactly what happened on March 19, 2013, when a parolee, Evan Ebel, murdered Tom Clements, the executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections. When he interviewed parole board members in Colorado, Reitz says, he found the specter of that murder loomed over every decision they made: “Board members told me, ‘If I let someone out and he does something horrible, that’s on me.’ ” So parole-board members have little motivation to release inmates, no matter how deserving they seem.

January 2, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Seeing the human stories behind the reform numbers one year after passage of the FIRST STEP Act

In this post a few days ago, I noted some notable metrics as we hit the one-year anniversary of the FIRST STEP Act becoming law.  Though numbers provide an important perspective on what the FIRST STEP Act has (and has not) achieved, the human stories behind these numbers are surely what is most significant and poignant.  To that end, I was pleased to see that the folks at #cut50 have assembled a set of materials here highlighting "the human impact of the FIRST STEP Act." 

Included in the #cut50 materials is this notable report titled "#HomeForTheHolidays: A Celebration of Freedom Made Possible by the FIRST STEP Act."  I recommend the report in full because it tells the individual human stories, with pictures, of just a few of the "thousands of people have been freed from federal prisons, reunited with their families, and are contributing back to their communities."  

Another way to get some sense of just some of the individual FIRST STEP Act stories is through a review of some notable posts from my FIRST STEP Act and its implementation archive.  After a full year, of course, there are far too many stories to review effectively in this space.  Nevertheless, here is a round-up of particular posts from 2019 that report on a few especially interesting individuals stories resulting from the passage of the FIRST STEP Act:

December 30, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force releases extensive report with extensive criminal justice reform recommendations for the Volunteer State

As reported in this local article, the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force recently "released its interim report, detailing problems with Tennessee's criminal justice system that have led to a high recidivism rate and 23 recommendations to fix them. Here is more about the report from the press piece:

Despite spending over a billion dollars a year and sending more people to prison, Tennessee communities are no safer than they were a decade ago.  That's the major conclusion from Governor Bill Lee's criminal justice investment task force....

Lee created the task force through an executive order in March, with the goal to help develop policies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.  In August, the task force began reviewing the state's sentencing and corrections data, policies, practices, and programs. It also looked at what other states were doing.

Among the task force's key findings:

  • Tennessee's prison population grew 12 percent over the last decade, primarily because of longer sentences and fewer paroles
  • Three out of every four new prisoners in FY 2018 were serving time for non-violent crimes
  • Over half of prisoners released from custody are back in jail within three years
  • Half of local county jails are overcrowded
  • An increasing number of prisoners are women, with the state ranking 11th highest in the nation for female incarceration

With lawmakers set to return to Nashville in less than three weeks, the task force made 23 recommendations. The recommendations include:

  • Expanding access to sentencing alternatives, like probation and treatment programs
  • Help more inmates transition successfully back into society
  • Increase educational opportunities
  • Improve community supervision programs
  • Reduce probation terms
  • Streamline the parole process
  • Rewrite the sentencing code (replacing the current one from 1989)

This full 38-page task force report can be found at this link, and the last dozen pages has an intricate accounting of the 23 recommendations designed to "provide an avenue
for Tennessee to reduce recidivism and improve public safety."  Other states might also find these proposed avenues quite useful

December 26, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Marshall Project and New York Times examining challenges for families of incarcerated persons

The Marshall Project has partnered this week with the New York Times on what will be a five part series of pieces exploring issues facing the families of persons who are incarcerated. Here are the headlines and links to the first three parts of this series:

"The Hidden Cost of Incarceration: Prison costs taxpayers $80 billion a year. It costs some families everything they have."

"The Long Journey to Visit a Family Member in Prison: Remote prison towns and strict visitation policies make it hard to stay in touch."

"Can You Hear Me Now?: Prison officials tout video visitation’s convenience. Families say they’re paying high rates for second-rate service"

December 20, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

PPI releases "Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019"

Youth_pie_2019The Prison Policy Initiative has today posted the latest of its remarkable pie charts and reports providing an extraordinary look at confinement realities in the United States.  This new report by Wendy Sawyer is focused on youth confinement, and here is part of the report's introductory text and some other excerpts (along with the great infographic):

On any given day, over 48,000 youth in the United States are confined in facilities away from home as a result of juvenile justice or criminal justice involvement. Most are held in restrictive, correctional-style facilities, and thousands are held without even having had a trial. But even these high figures represent astonishing progress: Since 2000, the number of youth in confinement has fallen by 60%, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.

What explains these remarkable changes? How are the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems different, and how are they similar? Perhaps most importantly, can those working to reduce the number of adults behind bars learn any lessons from the progress made in reducing youth confinement?

This report answers these questions, beginning with a snapshot of how many justice-involved youth are confined, where they are held, under what conditions, and for what offenses. It offers a starting point for people new to the issue to consider the ways that the problems of the criminal justice system are mirrored in the juvenile system: racial disparities, punitive conditions, pretrial detention, and overcriminalization. While acknowledging the philosophical, cultural, and procedural differences between the adult and juvenile justice systems, the report highlights these issues as areas ripe for reform for youth as well as adults.

This updated and expanded version of our original 2018 report also examines the dramatic reduction in the confined youth population, and offers insights and recommendations for advocates and policymakers working to shrink the adult criminal justice system....

Black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities, while white youth are underrepresented.  These racial disparities are particularly pronounced when it comes to Black boys and American Indian girls.  While 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black.   And even excluding youth held in Indian country facilities, American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite comprising less than 1% of all youth nationally.

Racial disparities are also evident in decisions to transfer youth from juvenile to adult court.  In 2017, Black youth made up 35% of delinquency cases, but over half (54%) of youth judicially transferred from juvenile court to adult court. Meanwhile, white youth accounted for 44% of all delinquency cases, but made up only 31% of judicial transfers to adult court.  And although the total number of youth judicially transferred in 2017 was less than half what it was in 2005, the racial disproportionality among these transfers has actually increased over time.  Reports also show that in California, prosecutors send Hispanic youth to adult court via "direct file" at 3.4 times the rate of white youth, and that American Indian youth are 1.8 times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence.

December 19, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Vera Institute produces new report highlighting big increases in rural jail populations

This recent New York Times piece, headlined "‘A Cesspool of a Dungeon’: The Surging Population in Rural Jails," fills out the picture presented by the statistical story set out in this new Vera Institute report on jail populations in the United States. Here is part of the NY Times piece:

Jail populations used to be concentrated in big cities. But since 2013, the number of people locked up in rural, conservative counties such as Hamblen has skyrocketed, driven by the nation’s drug crisis.

Like a lot of Appalachia, Morristown, Tenn., about an hour east of Knoxville, has been devastated by methamphetamine and opioid use. Residents who commit crimes to support their addiction pack the 255-bed jail, which had 439 inmates at the end of October, according to the latest state data. Many cities have invested in treatment options and diversion programs to help drug users. But those alternatives aren’t available in a lot of small towns.

“In the big city, you get a ticket and a trip to the clinic,” said Jacob Kang-Brown, a senior research associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, which released a report on Friday analyzing jail populations. “But in a smaller area, you might get three months in jail.”

The disparity has meant that while jail populations have dropped 18 percent in urban areas since 2013, they have climbed 27 percent in rural areas during that same period, according to estimates in the report from Vera, a nonprofit group that works to improve justice systems. The estimates are drawn from a sample of data from about 850 counties across the country.

There are now about 167,000 inmates in urban jails and 184,000 in rural ones, Vera said. Suburban jail populations have remained about the same since 2013, while small and midsize cities saw a 7 percent increase.

Rural jails now lock up people at a rate more than double that of urban areas. And increasingly, those inmates are women.

Here is part of the summary from the Vera report, which is titled "People in Jail in 2019":

At midyear 2019, there were an estimated 758,400 people in local jails, up 13,200 (1.8 percent increase) from midyear 2017, which is the most recently available BJS data.  This is the highest number of people in jail since midyear 2009, and the number is up 31,000 since the recent trough in 2015 (4.3 percent increase).  Most people in jail have not been convicted of the charges they are facing, and many are being detained in civil matters, such as people incarcerated pretrial for immigration cases or those incarcerated due to unpaid child support or fines and fees.

The jail incarceration rate in the United States was an estimated 230 people in jail per 100,000 residents, up from 229 per 100,000 in 2017, representing a 0.5 percent increase. This brings the rate of jail incarceration up 1.3 percent since the recent trough in 2015.  Jail incarceration rates are 2.8 times higher than they were in 1960.

The national increase in the local jail population hides stark diverging trends across the urban to rural continuum.  Since 2013, jail populations have grown 27 percent in rural counties and 7 percent in small and mid-sized metropolitan areas.  During the same period, jail populations have declined 18 percent in large urban counties and are down 1 percent in the suburban counties surrounding those large urban counties.  In 2019, rural counties’ jail incarceration rates were more than double those of urban counties.

December 16, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

"Solitary Confinement in the Young Republic"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by David M. Shapiro just published in the December 2019 issue of the Harvard Law Review.  Here is its abstract:

America’s first system for punishing criminals with solitary confinement began at the Walnut Street Jail, an institution that stood right behind Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Historical and archival evidence from that facility demonstrates that the unchecked use of solitary confinement in today’s correctional facilities contravenes norms that prevailed in the Constitution’s founding era.  In the 1790s, a robust array of checks and balances cabined the discretion of corrections officials to isolate prisoners.  Judges, legislatures, and high public officials regulated human isolation at the jail, leaving prison administrators relatively little power over solitary confinement.  Most importantly, long periods of seclusion could be imposed only by courts acting pursuant to criminal sentencing statutes.  Jail officials had the power to impose solitary confinement for disciplinary violations, but only for a matter of days or weeks.  Today, however, deference to prison officials has swallowed these constraints.  In the present regime, some prisoners remain isolated for years and decades based on decisions by prison officials that courts hesitate to second-guess.  The historical record casts doubt upon any originalist argument that the founding generation would have embraced the contemporary regime of judicial deference in matters of human isolation.

December 14, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Reviewing LWOP populations in Louisiana and nationwide

5deadab9df7fc.imageI am just finding time to blog about this lengthy terrific piece from last weekend in The Advocate under the headline "Louisiana's life without parole sentencing the nation's highest — and some say that should change." I recommend the piece in full, and here are some excerpts:

About 15 percent of Louisiana's prison population consists of people serving life without parole, which is the highest percentage among all states. Those numbers are the result of sentencing laws enacted decades ago — including mandatory minimums and a 1979 decision from state legislators to abolish parole for all life sentences, creating a rigid structure that critics argue limits opportunities to ensure the punishment fits the crime.

Perhaps the biggest outlier is Louisiana's response to second-degree murder, a broad statute that treats getaway drivers and lookouts the same as trigger pullers. It allows prosecutors to sidestep proving intent in some cases, but nonetheless carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole....

Louisiana has more inmates serving life without parole than Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined: about 4,700 people behind bars with no chance at release.

Those convicted of second-degree murder make up the largest subset — 51 percent of the total — compared to 19 percent for aggravated rape and 16 percent for first-degree murder, according to Department of Corrections data analyzed by researchers at Loyola University. More than half were under 25 when convicted and about 75 percent are black. When factoring in other long sentences too, almost one in three Louisiana prison inmates will die behind bars, according to the national nonprofit The Sentencing Project.

Many places, including Southern states, make most lifers eligible for parole after 20 or 30 years. But in Louisiana "life means life." People convicted of certain crimes are automatically locked up forever, with no input from judges, juries or the state's parole board.

Opponents of Louisiana's sentencing practices cite extensive research showing people "age out" of crime, meaning their likelihood of getting rearrested decreases the older they get. LSU research published in 2013 shows extremely low — almost nonexistent — recidivism rates among former Louisiana lifers who were released on commuted sentences after decades behind bars. "Giving lifers a chance at parole is about creating a world in which people still keep a little hope," said Jamila Johnson, an attorney with the New Orleans nonprofit Promise of Justice Initiative. "That glimmer of hope changes how people interact in our criminal justice system."

Louisiana lawmakers considered major changes after pledging to pass a criminal justice reform package during the 2017 legislative session. They discussed making lifers eligible for parole after serving at least 30 years and reaching age 50, excluding those convicted of first-degree murder, which carries either death or life without parole.

But the Louisiana District Attorney's Association came out in opposition to all proposals addressing serious and violent offenses. The association, which represents the state's prosecutors, argued that releasing inmates convicted of the bloodiest crimes would pose a real threat to public safety and break promises to victims and their families. Some crimes are so heinous, and cause so much trauma, prosecutors said, that they essentially demand retributive justice.

Those negotiations in the legislature produced a series of reforms that softened sentences and changed parole requirements for minor and nonviolent crimes alone. The changes reduced Louisiana's prison population, but in doing so raised the percentage of inmates serving life sentences.

Other states and the federal government have similarly limited recent prison reform efforts to nonviolent offenses, but advocates now argue that truly addressing mass incarceration must include rethinking the American response to violent crime.

Leaders of the Louisiana Department of Corrections have also argued that keeping aging prisoners behind bars is both expensive and unnecessary, though officials failed to comment further for this story. Some have become vocal critics of Louisiana's most extreme sentencing practices, which often leave the state responsible for the medical treatment and burgeoning healthcare costs of geriatric inmates.

"Part of the challenge is getting the general public to endorse the idea of rehabilitation for violent convicted criminals," corrections department Executive Counsel Natalie LaBorde said during a seminar in Baton Rouge earlier this year. "It is not about absolving anyone of the consequences of crime. … But it is also not about making a decision based on a set moment in time and throwing away the key forever."...

Louisiana hasn't always pursued such harsh sentencing laws despite the current rhetoric surrounding crime and punishment in the Pelican State. For five decades starting in 1926, most people sentenced to life were released on parole after serving just 10 years and six months.

That started to change following the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the death penalty nationwide. Louisiana lawmakers responded to the ruling with new policies to keep former death row inmates behind bars longer, delaying parole eligibility for lifers — first to 20 years and then 40. Finally in 1979, the state legislature abolished parole for lifers entirely. 

While Louisiana stands out among other states, America itself is an outlier within the Western world for its use of both life without parole and the death penalty, according to a 2015 article in the Ohio State Law Journal. The author, a University of Mississippi law professor, also asserts a "worldwide consensus against the use of life without parole sentences."

I was not aware that extensions of prison terms in Louisiana were so directly linked to Supreme Court restrictions on the death penalty, but I suppose that story is not all that surprising and may well be a big part of the story in other jurisdictions.

December 13, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Incapacitating Errors: Sentencing and the Science of Change"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Eve Hanan and recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Despite widespread support for shifting sentencing policy from “tough on crime” to “smart on crime,” reflected in legislation like the federal First Step Act, the scope of criminal justice reform has been limited.  We continue to engage in practices that permanently incapacitate people while carving out only limited niches of sentencing reform for special groups like first-time nonviolent offenders and adolescents.  We cannot, however, be “smart on crime” without a theory of punishment that supports second chances for the broadest range of people convicted of crimes.

This Article posits that the cultural belief that adults do not change poses a major impediment to “smart on crime” policies.  Current sentencing policies focus on long-term incapacitation of adults with criminal records because of our folk belief that adult personality traits are immutable.  Whereas adolescents are expected to mature over time, and thus can rarely be determined to require permanent incapacitation, adults lack the benefit of the presumption of change.

Standing in contrast to our folk belief that adults do not change is a growing body of neuroscientific and psychological literature that this Article refers to as, “the science of adult change,” which demonstrates that adult brains change in response to environmental prompts and experience.

The science of adult change has powerful implications for punishment theory and practice. In its broadest sense, the science of adult change supports an empirically grounded, normative claim that sentencing should not attempt to identify the true criminal to permanently exclude.  Rather, sentencing policy should engage in only modest predictions about future behavior.  The presumption of reintegration as a full member of society should be the norm.  Moreover, because adult change occurs in response to environmental stimuli, the science of adult change supports both public accountability for the conditions of confinement and, ultimately, a challenge to incarceration as our primary means of responding to social harm.

December 13, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"The Missing Link: Jail and Prison Conditions in Criminal Justice Reform"

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

At any given moment in the United States, approximately 2.3 million people are behind bars, at least a quarter of whom have not been convicted of a crime.  Louisiana was second in the nation — and the world — in incarceration rates in 2018, but it is last nationwide in other relevant rankings: health care, infant mortality, economy, education, and infrastructure.  Louisiana only lost its title of “Incarceration Capital of the World” to Oklahoma following bipartisan state legislation enacted in 2017, which lowered our per capita incarceration rate.  Louisiana still far outpaces the nation, incarcerating 712 people per 100,000, compared to a national average of 450 people per 100,000.

The goal of this article is simple: to connect the dots between conditions in jails and prisons and broader criminal justice reform efforts.  This Article looks at conditions in Louisiana jails and prisons, examines recent reforms, and draws from other states and national data to establish broader trends.  It discusses recent criminal justice reform efforts, summarizes some of the key features of prison and jail conditions, with particular attention to how these conditions impact both the people incarcerated and their broader communities, and recommends several strategies to improve prisons and jails based on the relationships between their conditions and existing criminal justice reforms.

December 11, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 05, 2019

"Who should oversee implementing the First Step Act?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable Hill commentary authored by Johanna Markind, who served as an assistant general counsel with the US Parole Commission from 2009 to 2014. Here are excerpts from the piece:

During a Nov. 19 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer: How does the First Step Act differ from parole, and should the federal government reinstate parole?  With respect, the answers are: There’s no real difference, and it already has.  The issue that Sen. Graham implicitly raised is, who should run parole?

The groundbreaking First Step Act, enacted last December, authorizes early release of federal prisoners who have worked to reform themselves and are deemed low-risk.  The legislation requires BOP to perform a needs assessment on eligible prisoners and recommend programming for each.  The evidence-based programs are designed to reduce offenders’ risk of recidivism — that is, of returning to a life of crime — and increase their chances of successfully re-entering society.  Low-risk offenders who complete their programs are eligible for conditional early release (“home confinement”).

This is a reboot of parole.  Before parole was abolished in the federal system, effective 1987, the U.S. Parole Commission used to evaluate new prisoners, informally recommend programming such as drug treatment, and set tentative release dates.  As the proposed release date approached, the Parole Commission would re-evaluate the offenders in light of considerations, including whether they had completed recommended programming.  If it decided to release the prisoner, it would set release conditions.

A few years ago, an aide to one of the Senate co-sponsors of the First Step Act acknowledged to me that the risk-reduction/early release provisions are effectively parole by another name — albeit a new, improved version incorporating evidence-based practices developed during the intervening years.  To implement the act, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new risk-assessment tool (PATTERN) last July.

Unfortunately, as Sawyer admitted, BOP has yet to complete its needs-assessment tool. That could be because BOP is undermanned, as Sawyer testified. Recent coverage in The Hill has suggested the problem was that elements within DOJ are trying to undermine the act. Or, the problem could be that deciding when to release prisoners just isn’t what BOP and DOJ are institutionally designed to do.

Congress discovered a similar problem after it first authorized parole in 1910.  Parole was granted/denied at each federal prison by a board consisting of that prison’s warden, its doctor, and a Washington-based prison superintendent.  The system didn’t work very well, likely because prison wardens and superintendents were more focused on keeping prisoners in than on letting them out.  In 1930, Congress established a Board of Parole separate from the prison system. It, and its successor Parole Commission, oversaw parole until 1987....

BOP’s basic mission is “to protect society by confining offenders.”  Without a doubt, many BOP employees are sincerely working to comply with the act.  Nevertheless, deciding when and under what conditions to release offenders isn’t part of BOP’s mission.  If Congress wants the act’s release provisions implemented effectively, it should assign responsibility to an organization whose mission is consistent with that task.

A revamped Parole Commission is one option.  A rump Parole Commission still exists — it oversees release of prisoners sentenced for crimes committed before November 1987, and sanctions parole violations by that same population. It is naturally much smaller than it was when it oversaw parole for the entire federal prison population, but it could scale up.  To assist in that process, it could be given permission temporarily to rehire retired staff, just as Sawyer mentioned BOP is now doing.  Former Parole Commission staffers have a wealth of institutional memory and experience determining what programming offenders need to increase their chances for successful re-entry, as well as weighing the risks of releasing them.

Reviving the remnant Parole Commission is not the only way to implement the First Step Act effectively.  There are other options.  For example, Congress might create an agency for the purpose.  But, whatever Congress does or doesn’t do, history suggests that giving BOP the keys while charging it to bar the door is unlikely to produce optimal results.

Regular readers may recall this short article I penned a few years ago, titled "Reflecting on Parole’s Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System," in which I described the correction reform proposals then in Congress "as a kind of 'parole light'." Consequently, I think this author is spot on, particularly when she suggests players other than DOJ and BOP ought to be directly involved in FIRST STEP implementation.

Of course, there are many part of the FIRST STEP Act that extend beyond just providing for means for conditional early release, and thus a revamped Parole Commission would be, in my view, only one important part of ensuring the Act achieves its goals and potential.  We also need a well-functioning US Sentencing Commission, and one filled with Commissioners eager to give full and robust effect to all the the Act's ameliorative sentencing provisions.  I also think we need an entity tasked with and focused on addressing collateral consequences and other barriers to effective offender re-entry that can work to undermine whatever rehabilitative progress an offender may have made while serving a prison term.  (In another recent article, titled "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I made the case for  new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, that could proactively work on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.)

December 5, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Council on Criminal Justice releases new report on "Trends in Correctional Control by Race and Sex"

This morning the Council on Criminal Justice released this interesting new report detailing notable modern changes in the modern demographics of prison, jail, probaton, and parole populatons.  Like all good data-driven reports, this one defies easy summary, and so I will just here reprint the report's page of "Key Findings":

• From 2000 to 2016, racial and ethnic disparites declined across prison, jail, probaton, and parole populatons in the U.S. For example, the black-white state imprisonment disparity fell from 8.3-to-1 to 5.1-to-1, and the Hispanic-white parole disparity fell from 3.6-to-1 to 1.4-to-1.i

• Black-white disparites in state imprisonment rates fell across all major crime categories. The largest drop was for drug ofenses.  In 2000, black people were imprisoned for drug crimes at 15 tmes the rate of whites; by 2016, that rato was just under 5-to-1.

• Among women, the black-white disparity in imprisonment fell from 6-to-1 to 2-to-1, a sharper decrease than the decline among men. The disparity among women fell because of an increase in the imprisonment rate for whites for violent, property, and drug crimes, and a decrease in the imprisonment of black women for drug crimes.

• The change in the black-white male imprisonment disparity occurred as the number of black men in state prisons declined by more than 48,000 (to about 504,000) and the number of white men increased by more than 59,000 (to roughly 476,000). Comparatvely, the black-white female disparity decreased as the number of black women in state prison fell by more than 12,000 (to about 24,000) and the number of white women increased by nearly 25,000 (to about 60,000).

• Reported ofending rates of blacks for rape, robbery, and aggravated assault declined by an average of 3% per year between 2000 and 2016, decreases that contributed to a drop in the black imprisonment rate for these crimes. This decrease was ofset in part by an increase in the expected tme to be served upon admission, which increased for both blacks and whites.

• Hispanic-white disparites in all four correctonal populatons have narrowed steadily since 2000. For Hispanics and whites on probaton, the data showed no disparity in rates by 2016.

For some context and perspectives on the report, the Marshall Project has this new piece headlined "The Growing Racial Disparity in Prison Time: A new study finds black people are staying longer in state prisons, even as they face fewer arrests and prison admissions overall."

December 3, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"Pushed Out and Locked In: The Catch-22 for New York’s Disabled, Homeless, Sex-Offender Registrants"

The title of this post is the title of this new Yale Law Journal Forum piece authored by Allison Frankel. Here is its abstract:

Across New York, people are incarcerated for weeks, months, and even years after their prison release dates.  These individuals are not confined for violating prison disciplinary rules or committing new crimes. New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) detains them, instead, because they are homeless.  DOCCS refuses to release prisoners to community supervision without an approved address.  But for prisoners required to register as “sex offenders,” finding housing means navigating a web of restrictions that are levied exclusively on people convicted of sex crimes and that dramatically constrain housing options, particularly in densely populated New York City. These restrictions amount to effective banishment for registrants with disabilities, who face added obstacles to finding medically appropriate housing and are barred even from New York City’s homeless-shelter system.

As this Essay explores, the State of New York, and particularly New York City, pushes its poor, disabled sex-offender registrants into homelessness, and then prolongs registrants’ detention because of their homeless status.  This detention regime continues unabated, despite studies showing that sex-offender recidivism rates are actually relatively low and that residency restrictions do not demonstrably prevent sex offenses.  Rather, such laws consign registrants to homelessness, joblessness, and social isolation.  It does not have to be this way. This Essay suggests litigation strategies to challenge the prolonged detention of homeless registrants on statutory and constitutional grounds.  The Essay also offers policy solutions to improve New York City registrants’ access to housing and to untether an individual’s housing status from their access to liberty.  New York simply cannot and should not continue both to restrict registrants’ housing options and to detain individuals because they are homeless.

November 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Rounding up lots of notable stories and commentary from prison nation

I have been doing this blog for a very long time, and for many years it seemed like there were not very many pieces about prisons and prisoners given that the US has long be the world's leader in incarceration populations. But as interest has increased in criminal justice reform, so too has interest in giving ink to this world.  Consequently, amidst busy weeks, I have to cover a lot of notable stories with a round-up link this:

November 26, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Two new disconcerting reports on southern justice

This past week I saw two notable new reports from pubic policy groups about criminal justice problems in southern states.  Here are links to the reports and excerpts from them:

About Alabama via the Equal Justice Initiative, "As Prison Spending Increases, So Does Violence and Misconduct":

A new study by the Equal Justice Initiative on Alabama’s prisons concludes:

  • In the first 10 months of 2019, twice as many Alabama prisoners have been murdered (13) than the entire 10-year period between 1999 and 2009, making Alabama’s current system the most violent in the nation

About Mississippi via FWD.us, "We All Pay: Mississippi’s Harmful Habitual Laws":

Mississippi has an incarceration crisis, driven in large part by its use of extreme sentences. In fact, long prison sentences have become the norm in Mississippi. First-time drug possession can land you in prison for 20 years. Stealing tools from a garage can result in 25 years behind bars. These excessively long sentences weaken Mississippi’s families and workforce and waste tax dollars since they also do nothing to make neighborhoods safer....

Of the more than 2,600 people in prison today who have been sentenced with a habitual penalty, one-third (906 people) have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Nearly half of that group (439 people) has been sentenced to die in prison through either a life or virtual life sentence of 50 years of more.

The impact of these laws is not felt equally across communities: Habitual penalties are applied overwhelmingly and disproportionately to Black men. Despite making up 13 percent of the state’s population,75 percent of the people with 20+ year habitual sentences are Black men.

November 24, 2019 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

DVR alert for new documentary, "College Behind Bars"

CBB-hero_18x7Thanks to seeing this recent USA Today article, headlined "'Undoing a mistake': Ken Burns film looks inside the push to bring college education back to prison," I just set my DVR to record what looking like an important documentary for all policymakers and reform advocates.  Here are some highlights from the lengthy press article:

Stacks of books are organized meticulously by genre amid the chaos of a maximum security prison.  A makeshift desk made from cardboard is placed over a sink in a cramped cell. A chalkboard is filled with Chinese symbols in a room filled with eager students in green jumpsuits. Late night studying. This isn’t the picture most Americans have of prison.

More often than not, violence, isolation and anger are what come to mind. But these scenes from a PBS documentary airing this month show viewers a different kind of prison life — the rigorous pursuit of higher education.

“College Behind Bars" follows students in the Bard Prison Initiative, a privately funded college program that began in 2001 in New York state prisons. For now, the roughly 300 students taking classes free of charge at the elite college are the exception. Most incarcerated individuals cannot afford a college education — and all are banned from applying for federal grants.

It wasn’t always this way. For decades, college prison programs flourished across the country. After the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, Pell Grants were banned for those who are incarcerated. For the first time in more than two decades, a push to lift this ban is sparking bipartisan support. Last month, Congress introduced bills that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for those incarcerated as part of wider college affordability legislation.

For formerly incarcerated individuals, educational experts and advocates, it’s about time. They argue that post-secondary education behind bars will lower the likelihood that an individual returns to prison and that it will benefit society as whole. “Ninety-five percent of people who are in prison will get out,” Ken Burns, executive producer of the PBS film, told USA TODAY. “Do you want them as responsible, taxpaying citizens or people who have used their time in prison to hone their criminal skills?”

Incarcerated at 17, Jule Hall spent more than 20 years in prison and is one of the main figures in the PBS documentary, which airs Monday and Tuesday. The film trails Hall, a 2011 Bard Prison Initiative graduate who earned a bachelor's degree in German studies, as he navigates the parole process, is released from prison and enters the workforce.

Hall works at the Ford Foundation analyzing the impact of social justice grants — an experience he describes as "another Bard" because of the experts and cutting-edge ideas. "What BPI has achieved is exceptional, but I think it's only a small part of what can be done if we get serious about this," Hall said. "I want people to walk away from this film understanding that there are many more people who want to be involved in programs like this that are incarcerated, but they don't have the access or the possibility of doing so."

Access to education is at the heart of filmmaker Lynn Novick and producer Sarah Botstein's vision. When the two screened one of their films at a BPI class at Eastern Correctional Facility in New York, the engaging conversation they had with the inmates encouraged them to expose the program to more people. "After that one experience in the classroom, we walked out and just felt like, 'Oh my gosh, this is something everybody needs to know is happening,' " Novick said.

The official website for "College Behind Bars" is available at this link, where one can find an extended trailer and additional clips along with airing information for DVR setting.  (I realize I am showing my age when I talked about DVR setting, I expect (and hope) lots of younger folks will just stream this doc.) Here is how the documentary is briefly described on the official website:

College Behind Bars, a four-part documentary film series directed by award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick, produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns, tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States — the Bard Prison Initiative.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State, the four-hour film takes viewers on a stark and intimate journey into one of the most pressing issues of our time — our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million Americans living behind bars.  Through the personal stories of the students and their families, the film reveals the transformative power of higher education and puts a human face on America’s criminal justice crisis.  It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for?  Who has access to educational opportunity?  Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?

November 23, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Lots of interesting discussions of FIRST STEP Act (and Jeffrey Epstein) during Senate Judiciary's BOP oversight hearing

This morning, the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary held an hearing titled "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons" with a single witness testifying.  That witness was Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the full two-hour hearing can be watched at this link.  

Dr. Hawk Sawyer submitted this lengthy written statement, and it covers a lot of BOP ground.  It also concludes with an extended discussion of FIRST STEP Act implementation efforts, and here is a snippet from that part of the written testimony:

The Bureau has made great progress in implementing the FSA.  We appreciate the considerable work of the Department of Justice (Department) in the implementation process, as well.  In particular, the Department’s National Institute of Justice has been instrumental in collaborating with us as we move forward aggressively to ensure this important criminal justice reform is appropriately and effectively implemented.  We similarly appreciate the ongoing work of the Independent Review Committee as they advise the Attorney General on the new risk and needs assessment systems required under the FSA.

We have listened to the important comments of the many interested stakeholders — from crime victims to a broad array of advocacy groups.  The statutory timelines in the FSA were formidable, and placed before us many challenges, but I am proud to say that the Bureau and the Department rose to that challenge.  And we continue to remain focused on the full, fair, and balanced implementation of the FSA....

With the President signing the FSA into law on December 21, 2018, several provisions became immediately effective. Despite the government shutdown, the Bureau rapidly developed guidance and policies to ensure appropriate implementation.  The retroactive application of sentence reductions under the Fair Sentencing Act resulted in over 2,300 orders for release, with the release thus far of over 1,600 of those inmates.  Staff also immediately began the challenge of re-programming our Good Conduct Time (GCT) sentence computations to reflect the change.  As a result, on July 19, 2019, when the GCT change took effect commensurate with the Attorney General’s release of the Risk and Needs Assessment System, the Bureau executed timely releases of over 3,000 inmates.

Guidance regarding the expanded Reduction in Sentence (RIS or compassionate release) provisions were issued in January 2019. Since the Act was signed into law, 109 inmates have received Compassionate Release.  The re-initiation of the Elderly Offender Pilot from the Second Chance Act of 2008 was issued in April 2019.  We currently have 358 inmates approved for the pilot, with 273 already on Home Confinement. The balance are pending their Home Confinement placement....

In accordance with the FSA, the Attorney General on July 19, 2019, released the Department’s report on the Risk and Needs Assessment System.  The new Risk Assessment system — the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs or PATTERN — has been developed by the Department and is currently undergoing fine-tuning as we consider feedback from stakeholders.  In the interim, the BOP has conducted extensive training for its staff on the key elements of the tool such that they are prepared to assess inmate risk in accordance with statutory deadlines.  The Bureau already has in place a robust Needs Assessment system, and we are working with experts in the field and research consultants to further enhance it.

During the hearing, FIRST STEP Act implementation issues were raised by a number of Senators. And lots and lots of other topics were also covered.  This AP article published yesterday, headlined "Federal Prison System Plagued by Abuses," provides a review of the range of BOP management issues were brought up during the hearing.  And this ABC News piece, headlined "Bureau of Prisons director set for grilling on Capitol Hill in wake of Epstein, Bulger deaths," names in its headline some of the high-profile prisoners of concerns to lawmakers.   Not surprisingly, especially with news of charges being brought against two guards for falsifying records, the death of Jeffrey Epstein was raised by a number of Senators.

As criminal justice nerd, I enjoyed all the issues raised throughout the entire oversight hearing, and I was encouraged by both the questions raised by many Senators and the answers provided by Dr. Hawk Sawyer.  And I especially enjoyed the surprising discussion during the early part of the hearing (starting just before minute 34) of Senator Lindsay Graham asking about "reinstituting parole in the federal system."  I am not sure why Senator Graham is now saying that reinstating parole is "something [Congress] should look at," but I am really intrigued by and supportive of any such efforts.  A couple of years ago, in this article titled "Reflecting on Parole’s Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System," I explained why I thought "parole might serve as an efficient and effective means to at least partially ameliorate long-standing concerns about mandatory minimum statutes and dysfunctional guidelines" and why sentencing reformers "ought to think about talking up the concept of federal parole anew."  Here is hoping Senator Graham might become a full-throated champion of giving serious consideration to bringing parole back to the federal system.

November 19, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 08, 2019

Latest Harvard Law Review SCOTUS issue gives criminal justice its due

As all law geeks know, the November issue of the Harvard Law Review is always devoted to the Supreme Court's prior Term work.  And as all long-time readers know, I have often been disappointed when the November SCOTUS issue does not give considerable attention to the Court's considerable criminal justice work. 

But, providing another exciting sign of the criminal justice times, the latest HLR issue, which is now available online here, gives criminal justice reform its due.  Specifically, the Foreword authored by Dorothy Roberts is titled "Abolition Constitutionalism" and it aspires to provide a "sustained analysis of the relationship between the prison abolition movement and the U.S. Constitution."  And Rachel Barkow has in this issue this lengthy commentary titled "Categorical Mistakes: The Flawed Framework of the Armed Career Criminal Act and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing."

In addition, a handful of OT 2018 SCOTUS criminal cases got case comments in this issue:

I know what extra reading I am looking forward to doing over a holiday weekend!

November 8, 2019 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Opportunities for law students interested in prison law and prisoners’ rights

Sharon Dolovich, Professor of Law and Director of the Prison Law & Policy Program at the UCLA School of Law, asked if I could post this year's edition of the UCLA Prison Law Summer Job Search Guide.  As Sharon explained to me: "The guide is intended for current law students around the country interested in summer positions working on behalf of incarcerated people. The guide gives the students a one-stop shop of what organizations are hiring."

Download UCLA Prison Law Summer 2020 Job Search Guide

Sharon wisely also suggested I also use this opportunity to note anew Prison Law JD for a new crop of young prisoners’ rights advocates.  Again, from Sharon: "Prison Law JD is the national listserv for current law students or recent law grads who are interested in this field. The purpose is to disseminate information about job and fellowship opportunities, conferences, etc. and also to help build a community of the next generation of prisoners’ rights lawyers.  Students who want to join can email me directly at dolovich @ law.ucla.edu ."

I am so grateful for Sharon's terrific work on these important issues.  I am hopeful this message gets widely shared in all networks so that all law students know of these great resources and opportunities.

November 5, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019"

Womenpie2019_pressimage_croppedThe Prison Policy Initiative continues to do an amazing job with updated accounts of the "whole pie" of different aspects of the US criminal justice system, and today's latest report is this updated version of an accounting of women who are incarcerated in the United States.  Here is part of the report's introductory text:

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? How is their experience different from men’s? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.

This report provides a detailed view of the 231,000 women and girls incarcerated in the United States, and how they fit into the even broader picture of correctional control. We pull together data from a number of government agencies and calculates the breakdown of women held by each correctional system by specific offense. The report, produced in collaboration with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, answers the questions of why and where women are locked up...

In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, more incarcerated women are held in jails than in state prisons. As we will explain, the outsized role of jails has serious consequences for incarcerated women and their families.

Women’s incarceration has grown at twice the pace of men’s incarceration in recent decades, and has disproportionately been located in local jails. The data needed to explain exactly what happened, when, and why does not yet exist, not least because the data on women has long been obscured by the larger scale of men’s incarceration. Frustratingly, even as this report is updated every year, it is not a direct tool for tracking changes in women’s incarceration over time because we are forced to rely on the limited sources available, which are neither updated regularly nor always compatible across years.

Particularly in light of the scarcity of gender-specific data, the disaggregated numbers presented here are an important step to ensuring that women are not left behind in the effort to end mass incarceration.

October 29, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guest post by Anonymous: "Donald Trump Not A Boon to Private Prison Industry"

Download (5)A thoughtful person recently sent me an email with thoughtful observations on what the Trump era has meant for the private prison industry in the financial markets.  I asked if I could post the musings, and I was allowed to put up this text under the byline "Anonymous."  Enjoy:

Anyone remotely interested interested in criminal justice reform could hardly forget the immediate effect that President Trump’s law-and-order election had on the private prison industry.  Almost immediately, there was an out with the old (Obama) and in with the new (Sessions) ideological shift that saw the value of these companies double in value (press report here). There was very little reason to hope that many reformer’s goal of banning private prisons would come to fruition.

Almost three years later, my life as an investor — along with the non-stop chatter about the S&P 500 at new all-time highs — had me curious to see what the performance of these stocks was since President Trump took over.  My discovery was somewhat astonishing (although pleasantly so); GEO (GEO Group) and CXW (Core Civic Inc. — formerly Corrections Corporation of America) are now trading at Pre-Trump levels (prices that factored in a Hilary Clinton presidency and the potential banishing of the private prison industry as a whole).  Coupled with the fact that this is happening notwithstanding the S&P 500 hitting an all-time high today and rallying 50% or so since Trump's election.  Now when you factor in that these stocks doubled in the weeks following the election, they are actually down 50% since!  That is EXTREME relative underperformance.

What does this all mean?

1.  The major share holders of these stocks feel there is significant likelihood of a Democrat being elected in 2020 — so much so that they have ALREADY begun to dump their stocks a year early,

2.  Trump’s policies are seriously emptying out the private prison through expedited deportations and/or decreasing of prison populations,

3.  States have significantly begun to reduce its number of inmates (after all, there are far more state inmates than federal ones), 

4.  Nothing at all.

Just an interesting thought that intersects last week’s criminal justice forum and today’s new stock market highs.

One thing is for certain — President Trump has not done well for the private prison industry, and that’s just fine by me.

            — Anonymous

October 29, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 28, 2019

"We've Normalized Prison: The carceral state and its threat to democracy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Washington Post commentary authored by Piper Kerman.  I recommend the full piece (which is part of this new Prison issue in the Post's magazine), and here are excerpts:

The reach of the American criminal punishment systems stretches to clutch far more people than many imagine.  I know this not only from being incarcerated, but also from teaching nonfiction writing classes in state prisons.  My students’ stories bravely reveal difficult personal truths and bring to light much wider realities in a way that only lived experience really can.  What incarcerated writers’ voices illustrate is that the American criminal justice system does not solve the problems — violence, mental illness, addiction — that it claims to address....

Indeed, far from solving our problems, the carceral state is causing a massive one: A nation that locks up so many people and creates an expansive apparatus that relies on violence and confinement is a nation in which democracy, over the long term, cannot thrive.  For centuries, the U.S. political economy has relied on millions being sidelined from democratic participation, most notably African Americans and, before 1920, women.  Violence, in the form of lynching, was always important to limit democracy in this country (and agents of law enforcement were often complicit).  As we near 2020, civic exclusion is still a critical tool for those invested in preserving an inequitable status quo, and the policies surrounding mass incarceration are invaluable for continuing to deny participation to millions of Americans.

Last year, the citizens of Florida voted to amend the state constitution to allow people like me, with felony convictions, to regain the right to vote after returning home.  Quickly and shamelessly, the Florida legislature and governor responded by passing a poll tax to prevent those voters — disproportionately people of color and poor people — from having a voice.  Many other states also restrict voting rights of prisoners or ex-prisoners, especially states with large African American populations — not a coincidence, as they remain overly targeted and punished by the criminal justice system.  As a result, we have not only normalized prison but normalized the exclusion of large groups of people from participating in our democracy....

Freedom and safety are too often imagined as being in opposition, but nothing could be further from the truth. Americans who have the most freedom — freedom to learn, freedom from illness, freedom of movement, freedom from violence — are invariably the safest, and the whitest, and the richest.  We did this to ourselves: Mass incarceration is a result of policies that have grown out of a history of slavery, colonialism and punishment of the poor.  Until we reconcile with these hard truths, by listening to the people most affected by the loss of freedom, we will fall far short of equity. We have a choice: We can permit injustice to remain a growth industry or we can elect to have a more fair, restorative and effective system.  And this isn’t an abstract choice — it is one you will make today, and tomorrow, and next week. Ending mass incarceration is imperative for democracy, safety and freedom.  Do you see what is happening in your own community?  And are you ready to do your part?

October 28, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Sentencing Project releases new fact sheet on "Private Prisons in the United States"

The Sentencing Project released this new fact sheet on "Private Prisons in the United States."  Here are excerpts from the text (and click through for notable charts and graphs):

Private prisons in the United States incarcerated 121,718 people in 2017, representing 8.2% of the total state and federal prison population.  Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 39%.  However, the private prison population reached its peak in 2012 with 137,220 people.  Declines in private prisons’ use make these latest overall population numbers the lowest since 2006 when the population was 113,791.

States show significant variation in their use of private correctional facilities.  Indeed, the New Mexico Department of Corrections reports that 53% of its prison population is housed in private facilities, while 22 states do not employ any for-profit prisons.  Data compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and interviews with corrections officials find that in 2017, 28 states and the federal government incarcerated people in private facilities run by corporations including GEO Group, Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), and Management and Training Corporation.

Eighteen states with private prison contracts incarcerate more than 500 people in for-profit prisons.  Texas, the first state to adopt private prisons in 1985, incarcerated the largest number of people under state jurisdiction, 12,728.

Since 2000, the number of people in private prisons has increased 39.3%, compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 7.8%.  In six states the private prison population has more than doubled during this time period: Arizona (479%), Indiana (310%), Ohio (277%), Florida (199%), Tennessee (117%), and Georgia (110%).

The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains the nation’s highest number of people managed by private prison contractors.  Since 2000, its use increased 77%, and the number of people in private federal custody — which includes prisons, half-way houses and home confinement — totaled 27,569 in 2017.  While a significant historical increase, the population declined 15% since 2016, likely reflecting the continuing decline of the overall federal prison population.

Among the immigrant detention population, 26,249 people — 73% of the detained population — were confined in privately run facilities in 2017. The privately detained immigrant population grew 442% since 2002.

October 24, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Rounding up various accountings of FIRST STEP Act implementation realities

Today marks exactly 10 months since President Trump signed the FIRST STEP Act into law.  As noted in posts here and here, last week brought the first oversight hearing on the law in Congress. Perhaps because of that hearing, I have recently seen a number of press pieces and commentary discussing FIRST STEP implementation, and here is a round up:

From Filter by Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard, "The Consequences of an Incompetent First Step Act Rollout"

From the Providence Journal, "He was released early from prison in February. Now hes wanted for a murder on Federal Hill"

From the Providence Journal, "Nephew of Providence murder victim: Don't blame First Step Act"

From The Hill by Arthur Rizer and Emily Mooney, "Don't give up on the First Step Act"

From the Washington Times by Brett Tolman, "First Step Act is working, but the criminal justice system is still broken"

From The Crime Report by Ted Gest, "White House Pledges Hard Work on First Step Act"

October 21, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Deep dive into the deep human realities surrounding DC second look laws and policies

A helpful reader alerted me to this great extended article from the Washington City Paper about second look sentencing players and practices in DC. The piece, which I recommend in full, is headlined "How to End a Sentence: Juvenile sentencing reforms have sparked a face-off between the D.C. Council and U.S. Attorney over who should be released, and when."  Here are excerpts:

The [Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act] IRAA allows people who committed violent crimes before they turned 18 to ask a judge for a reduced sentence, as long as they’ve served at least 15 years. A D.C. Council bill introduced in February, the Second Look Amendment Act, would expand the law to include people who committed crimes before their 25th birthdays. An estimated 70 people have asked for a new sentence, and the bill could expand the number of eligible offenders to more than 500, the USAO believes.

This legislation comes as so-called “second look laws” are gaining momentum across the country and follow the precedent set by multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings curtailing harsh sentences for juveniles. The high court’s decisions rely on a growing body of research showing brain development continues into a person’s mid-20s.

The Model Penal Code, a project of the American Law Institute that provides a template for criminal justice policy makers, suggests that offenders of all ages receive a second look after serving 15 years in prison. The latest version, revised in 2017, explains that America relies on the heavy use of lengthy prison sentences more than any other Western democracy. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite two decades of falling crime rates.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Ronna Beck agrees that long sentences deserve another look. “I wish there were an opportunity for judges to be able to review everyone’s sentence after a significant period of time,” Beck said during Flowers’ resentencing. “Many people will not qualify for the sentence reduction that you did, but I think that it would be beneficial to our system to be able to have a review like this so that when people have really transformed their lives, as you seem to have done, that there was an opportunity to adjust a sentence that was imposed many, many decades earlier.”

A majority of the D.C. Council supports the Second Look Amendment Act—as does Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration and Attorney General Karl Racine. But [Jessie] Liu, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney, is not a fan. Her office has encountered few IRAA petitions that it likes. Since the original law took effect in 2017, federal prosecutors, who have jurisdiction over felony crimes in D.C., have opposed nearly every request for resentencing.

They’ve argued that offenders are too dangerous to be released, their crimes are too heinous, they haven’t accepted responsibility for their crimes, their release undermines “truth in sentencing,” and that, although prison records showing a dedication to education are admirable, they are to be expected.

At a recent hearing for Mustafa Zulu, a man who spent 20 years in solitary confinement starting when he was 20, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn Bond argued that Zulu’s “very very impressive” list of educational courses and accomplishments does not outweigh his sins in and out of prison. “Education is not a panacea for violence,” Bond said. “It does not fix someone’s character … It doesn’t change someone’s underlying violent character.”

In September, as part of its campaign opposing the Second Look Amendment Act, the U.S. Attorney’s Office hosted a meeting for the public and a group of advisory neighborhood commissioners. Liu stood against the wall while representatives from her office made their case against the bill, emphasizing the impact on victims and concerns that the Council is expanding the law too quickly without sufficient evidence that those released won’t commit new crimes.

During the meeting, John Hill, a deputy chief and career prosecutor, cited data from the Bureau of Prisons showing a recidivism rate of about 35 percent among people released from 2009 to 2015 who would be eligible under the Second Look Amendment Act. Hill ignored City Paper’s request for the underlying data, and the USAO has refused to release it. Hill also presented incorrect data on D.C.’s incarceration rate, which the office later corrected in a tweet.

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a senior researcher for The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes criminal justice reform, points out that the BOP’s definition of recidivism includes technical parole violations for missing a meeting or smoking weed. “A recidivism measure that separates these factors from new offenses gives people a better sense of public safety risk,” Ghandnoosh says.

Sarah McClellan, chief of the USAO’s victim witness assistance unit, explained at the September meeting that the new law reactivates trauma for victims and their families, many of whom have spoken passionately in opposition to offenders’ release.  At least two advisory neighborhood commissioners have published editorials opposing the second look bill, including Darrell Gaston, whose 15-year-old godson, Gerald Watson, was gunned down earlier this year. Malik Holston, 16, is charged with first-degree murder in Watson’s death.

October 12, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Seeking fresh perspectives on reentry and recidivism challenges

Brent Orrell, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has this notable new Hill commentary under the headline "Rethinking pathways to reentry." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

[A] declining prison population necessarily means that thousands of individuals are taking the arduous road back from prison to their communities.  For many, this road ends up looking more like a roundabout than a highway, with more than 80 percent being arrested again less than a decade after release. Much has been tried to reduce recidivism but little has been shown to have significant positive effects.  Over the past year, the American Enterprise Institute convened a group of scholars to delve into this problem, bringing together more than two dozen program evaluators, criminologists, and researchers to discuss what works and what does not in helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully leave prison and reintegrate back into their communities.

Our research report sought to distill some insights into the state of research and practice in reentry with the goal of identifying fresh perspectives for policymakers, researchers, and practitioners working in the field. Many of these ideas will be more fully developed as part of a volume to be published in early 2020.  While the working group did not seek to develop a consensus, it did identify several critical areas of focus for advancing the work of the corrections and reentry fields.

First, it is crucial that programs operating within correctional systems and at the community level become more rigorous in their program designs. Correctional systems and reentry programs at the community level need clearly defined theories of change that lay out a strategic conceptual framework, detailed steps for reaching the desired outcomes, and metrics for determining success.  In criminal justice and reentry, causality is hard to establish and measure, and such theories would help.

Second, researchers need to focus more time and energy on program implementation. Many correctional institutions and local criminal justice systems are either unequipped or uninformed or both about how to put a particular program model into practice. The result is a mashup of partially implemented programs that bear little resemblance to the models they are based on....

The report also highlights the importance of accurately gauging the needs of incarcerated individuals and their criminogenic risk factors.  The best research shows that tailored services produce better outcomes than “one size fits all” programs that run the risk of providing individuals either too little or too much help.  To effectively align services with individual needs, correctional staff must understand criminogenic risk factors and align services to mitigate them.  These assessments might be expensive and time consuming, but the benefits outweigh the costs.

Finally, new research indicates that people may stop committing crimes suddenly rather than desist on a slow age related curve, a model that has governed our criminal justice expectations for decades. There is evidence that even those who seem most likely to recidivate make choices to become crime free, quickly reducing or eliminating the likelihood of rearrest.  While there is uncertainty about how to produce this shift, the research suggests that reentry programs should be oriented to support those who have made or are close to making the transition.

All levels of government, along with many private and philanthropic organizations, have invested billions of dollars in trying to solve the recidivism puzzle.  To date, the effect has been disappointing.  This report and the volume that will be published next year are an effort to plot multiple pathways toward possible solutions.  Some of these pathways focus on making existing approaches more effective while others seek to innovate entirely new solutions.  The bottom line is that the status quo is neither sufficient nor sustainable. For the sake of the thousands of men and women who return home from prison each week and the families and communities who receive them, we can and must do better.

The full American Enterprise Institute report discussed in this commentary is available at this link under the title "Rethinking reentry: An AEI working group summary."

October 10, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Might as well face it, "we're addicted to jail"

156aa1d654fcab80912437f490d1ce5eWith apologies to Robert Palmer, this recent Hill commentary by David Oscar Markus has me wanting to riff on a rock classic:

Whoa, you like to think that we're a nation that's free, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say we can't let people be
You know you're gonna have to face it, we're addicted to jail

The last phrase of my tortured lyric here is the headline of the Hill commentary that should be read in full.  Here are its closing flourishes:

We issue jail sentences like candy, to address every known problem that we have.  Drug problem — jail.  Using your family member’s address to get your child into a better school — jail.  Paying college athletes — jail.  The United States jails more people than any other country in the world.  We have higher incarceration rates than Russia, Iran, and Iraq — by a lot.  We tolerate innocent people sitting in jail when we only suspect that they might have done something wrong, as one man did for 82 days when he brought honey into the United States.  82 days.

Even though oversleeping doesn’t seem to be a rampant problem, the judge in Deandre [Somerville]’s case admitted that he was trying to solve a broader jury “misconduct” issue with jail.  This is not how it should be.  The jail solution has become much worse than the diseases it was trying to cure. So what do we do about it?

One easy fix — appoint more criminal defense lawyers and civil lawyers to the bench and fewer prosecutors. According to the Cato Institute, former prosecutors are “vastly overrepresented” throughout the judiciary.  As to federal judges alone, the ratio of former prosecutors versus former criminal defense lawyers is four to one (and if you include lawyers who worked for the government on the civil side, the ratio is seven to one).  A criminal case or a civil rights case has a 50 percent chance to be heard by a former prosecutor and only a six percent chance to be heard by a judge who has handled a case against the government.  Cato explains the unfairness of this with a simple example — we would never allow four of the seven referees of a Ohio State-Michigan football game to be alumni of Michigan.  Ohio State fans would never tolerate it.  And yet, there are no criminal defense lawyers on the Supreme Court and there hasn’t been one for more than 25 years.

In many cases, former prosecutors have never represented a person sentenced to jail.  They have never visited a client in jail.  They have never explained to a family — while the family cried — that their loved one is going to be taken from them.  As prosecutors, they have only put a lot of people in jail.  And so, as judges, this addiction to jail continues, even for someone like Deandre, who ends up serving a jail sentence because he overslept.

We have many problems in this great country, and our addiction to jail is high on the list.

October 9, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

"The Brain in Solitude: An (Other) Eighth Amendment Challenge to Solitary Confinement"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Federica Coppola.  Here is its abstract:

Solitary confinement is not cruel and unusual punishment.  It is cruel and unusual if one or more of its accompanying material conditions result in a wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain upon an individual.  This requirement is met when such conditions involve a “deprivation of basic identifiable human needs” to an extent that they inflict harm or create a “substantial risk of serious harm” and they are enacted with “deliberate indifference” by prison personnel.  With limited exceptions, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have perpetuated a narrow application of these standards. 

In particular, Courts have often discounted the generalized mental pain caused by extreme isolation.  Accordingly, Courts have often neglected the duration of solitary confinement as an autonomous aspect of constitutional scrutiny.  Growing neuroscientific research has emphasized that social interaction and environmental stimulation are of vital importance for physiological brain function.  It has further highlighted that socio-environmental deprivation can have damaging effects on the brain, many of which may entail irreversible consequences.  Drawing on these insights, this article suggests that solitary confinement is in and of itself cruel and unusual punishment even under the current standards.  Avenues for a profound rethinking of solitary confinement regimes are presented and discussed.

October 9, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

"Association of Restrictive Housing During Incarceration With Mortality After Release"

The title of this post is the title of this disconcerting new research by multiple authored just published via JAMA Network Open.  Here is its abstract:

Importance Restrictive housing, otherwise known as solitary confinement, during incarceration is associated with poor health outcomes.

Objective To characterize the association of restrictive housing with reincarceration and mortality after release.

Design, Setting, and Participants This retrospective cohort study included 229 274 individuals who were incarcerated and released from the North Carolina prison system from January 2000 to December 2015.  Incarceration data were matched with death records from January 2000 to December 2016.  Covariates included age, number of prior incarcerations, type of conviction, mental health treatment recommended or received, number of days served in the most recent sentence, sex, and race.  Data analysis was conducted from August 2018 to May 2019.

Exposures Restrictive housing during incarceration.

Main Outcomes and Measures Mortality (all-cause, opioid overdose, homicide, and suicide) and reincarceration.

Results From 2000 to 2015, 229 274 people (197 656 [86.2%] men; 92 677 [40.4%] white individuals; median [interquartile range (IQR)] age, 32 years [26-42]), were released 398 158 times from the state prison system in North Carolina.  Those who spent time in restrictive housing had a median (IQR) age of 30 (24-38) years and a median (IQR) sentence length of 382 (180-1010) days; 84 272 (90.3%) were men, and 59 482 (63.7%) were nonwhite individuals.  During 130 551 of 387 913 incarcerations (33.7%) people were placed in restrictive housing.  Compared with individuals who were incarcerated and not placed in restrictive housing, those who spent any time in restrictive housing were more likely to die in the first year after release (hazard ratio [HR], 1.24; 95% CI 1.12-1.38), especially from suicide (HR, 1.78; 95% CI, 1.19-2.67) and homicide (HR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.24-1.91). They were also more likely to die of an opioid overdose in the first 2 weeks after release (HR, 2.27; 95% CI, 1.16-4.43) and to become reincarcerated (HR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.99-2.34).

Conclusions and Relevance This study suggests that exposure to restrictive housing is associated with an increased risk of death during community reentry.  These findings are important in the context of ongoing debates about the harms of restrictive housing, indicating a need to find alternatives to its use and flagging restrictive housing as an important risk factor during community reentry.

October 6, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 04, 2019

"Inmate Responses to Experiences With Court System Procedural and Distributive Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this recently published work authored by Mike Vuolo, Bradley Wright and Sadé Lindsay.  Here is the piece's abstract and concluding paragraph:

According to criminal justice theories, perceptions of procedural and distributive justice drive opinions on fairness, subsequently affecting behavior. We contend that such perceptions also affect the emotional states of incarcerated individuals, identifying court experiences as the focus of our study.  Through fieldwork at a male maximum-security prison, we find that inmates expressed negative emotional responses associated with three factors: trial, public defenders, and appeals.  Participants described perceived fairness through personal comparisons to alternative procedures and outcomes often connected to socioeconomic resources and related perceptions to emotions such as frustration, regret, resentment, and hopelessness. We situate our findings within theories of fairness and inmate adjustment research....

The effects continue well beyond the prison walls, however, as incarceration has lasting effects on health (Massoglia, 2008).  This study demonstrates that the court system experience warrants further examination as a source of negative emotions and, potentially, prisoner adjustment to incarceration.  The three factors outlined in our research illustrate that processes and procedures, occurring both prior to and during imprisonment, had enduring effects on incarcerated persons.  These aspects of the court system and the relationship to negative emotions could easily go overlooked, as prisoners’ voices are seldom heard. Our fieldwork allowed for a unique approach to studying this hard-to reach-population (Wacquant, 2002).  This investigation demonstrated that such voices are important in efforts to reform certain aspects of the court system in a manner that would reduce distress and alleviate some of the negative aspects of corrections and its enduring effects. These psychological effects are all the more important as increasing numbers of prisoners return home in an era of mass incarceration.

October 4, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, September 27, 2019

"Housing and Recidivism: The Critical Link to Reducing Louisiana’s Bulging Prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Angela Decoteau recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States in part because it has a high recidivism rate.  One of the reasons ex-offenders return to jail is that they cannot find adequate housing after serving their time.  As an inexperienced property manager of a mobile home park in rural Louisiana, the author gained an awareness of the re-entry hurdles ex-offenders face, in a most unexpected way.  The park refused any potential resident who had a criminal background.  One day a small unassuming man walked into the office, crumbled criminal background check in hand.  His rejection certain, he nevertheless pulled out a large three-ring binder. “I know I’ve messed up in my life, but I’ve turned it around, and here’s my proof.”  The author sat in silence as he paged through numerous certificates and glowing letters from prison guards, employers, and teachers both during and after his incarceration.  The author was able to secure a waiver of the policy, and he became one of the best tenants the park ever had.

This Article explores housing problems faced by the formerly incarcerated.  It continues with a discussion of the problems faced by property managers in considering ex-offenders’ applications. Louisiana’s antiquated criminal system denies the formally incarcerated any easy means to prove the extent of their rehabilitation.  To further complicate matters, property managers are denied access to the very information they most need to assess applicants’ qualifications.

The Article recommends a three-pronged approach: (1) expand the criminal record to include communication about the ex-offender’s behavior while incarcerated; (2) allow web access to property managers regarding justice of the peace housing judgments; (3) and enact legislative changes that would protect the formerly incarcerated from discrimination.

September 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"How many people in your state go to local jails every year?"

The question in the title of this post is the heading of this new posting at the Prison Policy Initiative building off the the group's recent big report Arrest, Release, Repeat.  Here is part of the set up to the latest state-by-state data analysis (which requires a click through to see in detail):

County and city jails have been called “mass incarceration’s front door,” but campaigns to reform or close jails often don’t receive the attention they deserve. Why? Because the traditional way we measure the impact of jails — the average daily population — significantly understates the number of people directly affected by these local facilities.

Because people typically stay in jail for only a few days, weeks or months, the daily population represents a small fraction of the people who are admitted over the course of a year. But the statistic that better reflects a jail’s impact on a community — the number of people who go to jail — is rarely accessible to the public.

Thankfully, we can now get close to closing this gap in the data and making the impact of jails clearer.  Building on our new national report Arrest, Release, Repeat, we’re able to estimate the number of people in every state who go to local jails each year.

September 18, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"U.S. Prison Population Trends: Massive Buildup and Modest Decline"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new briefing paper authored by Nazgol Ghandnoosh who is a Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. The short paper is full of great charts and data, and here is the start of the text:

By yearend 2017, 1.4 million people were imprisoned in the United States, a decline of 7% since the prison population reached its peak level in 2009.  This follows a nearly 700% growth in the prison population between 1972 and 2009.

The overall pace of decarceration has varied considerably across states, but has been modest overall. Thirty-nine states and the federal government had downsized their prisons by 2017.  Five states — Alaska, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York — reduced their prison populations by over 30% since reaching their peak levels.  But among the 39 states that reduced levels of imprisonment, 14 states downsized their prisons by less than 5%. Eleven states, led by Arkansas, had their highest ever prison populations in 2017.

If states and the federal government maintain this pace of decarceration, it will take 72 years — until 2091 — to cut the U.S. prison population in half.

The United States has made only modest progress in ending mass incarceration despite a dramatic decline in crime rates.  Reported crime rates have plummeted to half of their 1990s levels — as they have in many other countries that did not increase imprisonment levels.  Expediting the end of mass incarceration will require accelerating the end of the Drug War and scaling back sentences for all crimes, including violent offenses for which half of people in prison are serving time.

September 17, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"The Democrats’ Shameful Legacy on Crime"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Study suggests outdoor community service especially effective at reducing recidivism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

USA Today starts series on non-violent lifers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 02, 2019

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

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

Key Points

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

"Prosecutors Need to Take the Lead in Reforming Prisons"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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