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 (2)

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)

Friday, August 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

AG Barr announces new leadership for the federal Bureau of Prisons

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Is Mass Incarceration Inevitable?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Some fitting context for thinking about deaths while incarcerated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 01, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

"The Singularity and the Familiarity of Solitary Confinement"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Effect of Public Health Insurance on Criminal Recidivism"

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Torture and Respect"

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Compassionate Release Training in DC (and online) next week

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Monday, July 08, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 05, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

White House promotes efforts to provide job opportunities for former prisoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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