Sunday, August 02, 2020

"Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Missing Literature"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Alex Raskolnikov and recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This review of the criminal deterrence literature focuses on the questions that are largely missing from many recent, excellent, comprehensive reviews of that literature, and from the literature itself.  By “missing” I mean, first, questions that criminal deterrence scholars have ignored either completely or to a large extent.  These questions range from fundamental (the distributional analysis of the criminal justice system), to those hidden in plain sight (economic analysis of misdemeanors), to those that are well-know yet mostly overlooked (the role of positive incentives, offender’s mental state, and celerity of punishment).  I also use “missing” to refer to the areas where substantial relevant knowledge exists but is largely disregarded within the criminal deterrence research program.  The empirical analysis of environmental and tax compliance are two stark examples.  Finally, I stretch “missing” to describe topics that have been both studied and reviewed, but where substantial challenges remain.  These include the theoretical explanation for the role of offense history, the proper accounting for the offender’s gains, the estimation of the costs of various crimes, and the cost-benefit analysis of crime-reduction policies.

Among the literature’s missing pieces, several stand out both on their own and because they combine to produce a highly unfortunate result.  First, the literature makes only a minor effort to estimate the cost of crime, and essentially no effort to estimate the cost of white-collar offenses.  Combined with no centralized reporting of white-collar crimes and, therefore, no empirical analysis of them, the literature adds to the impression — not supported by the available evidence — that street crime is a great social problem while white-collar crime is a minor one.  Second, the literature fails to treat misdemeanors (and misdemeanor enforcement) as an independent subject of study.  This creates an impression — also unjustified — that thirteen million or so misdemeanor charges a year — and countless millions of stops, frisks, and interrogations that lead to no charges — all heavily skewed by race and class — are not a major social problem either. Third, the literature is only starting to develop a benefit-cost analysis of various crime-reducing strategies.  This analysis almost exclusively considers measures reflected in the optimal deterrence model and, therefore, internal to the criminal justice system.  This creates an impression — almost surely false — that deterrence is the only means of reducing future crime. Finally, the literature ignores distributional analysis altogether, even though the burdens of crime and the criminal justice system vary dramatically, predictably, and disturbingly by race and income.  By disregarding this variation, the literature may be reinforcing it. 

For all these reasons, the criminal deterrence literature may well be contributing to the overwhelming, singular focus of American society and law enforcement on the forceful deterrence of street crime. Addressing the missing pieces would enrich the literature, expand its appeal and policy-relevance, and enable academics to contribute to the effort of setting the US criminal justice system on the path of long-overdue structural reforms.

August 2, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Big new ACLU and HRW report details "How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States"

The quoted portion of the title of this post is part of the title of this huge new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union fully titled "Revoked: How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States." This important 200+ page report includes these passages in its "summary":

Probation, parole, and other forms of supervision are marketed as alternatives to incarceration in the United States. Supervision, it is claimed, will keep people out of prison and help them get back on their feet.

Throughout the past 50 years, the use of probation (a sentence often imposed just after conviction) and parole (served after incarceration) has soared alongside jail and prison populations. As of 2016, the last year for which supervision data is available, 2.2 million people were incarcerated in United States jails and prisons, but more than twice as many, 4.5 million people — or one in every 55 — were under supervision.  Supervision rates vary vastly by state, from one in every 168 people in New Hampshire, to one in every 18 in Georgia.

Over the past several decades,arbitrary and overly harsh supervision regimes have led people back into US jails and prisons — feeding mass incarceration.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in the late 1970s, 16 percent of US state and federal prison admissions stemmed from violations of parole and some types of probation.  This number climbed to a high of 36 percent in 2008, and, in 2018, the last year for which data is available, was 28 percent.  A different set of data for the previous year from the Council of State Governments, which includes all types of probation violations — but is limited to state prison populations — shows that 45 percent of all US state prison admissions stemmed from probation and parole violations.  These figures do not include people locked up for supervision violations in jails, for which there is little nationwide data.  Black and brown people are both disproportionately subjected to supervision and incarcerated for violations.

This report documents how and why supervision winds up landing many people in jail and prison — feeding mass incarceration rather than curtailing it.  The extent of the problem varies among states, and in recent years multiple jurisdictions have enacted reforms to limit incarceration for supervision violations.  This report focuses on three states where our initial research indicated that — despite some reforms — the issue remains particularly acute: Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Drawing on data provided by or obtained from these states, presented here for the first time, and interviews with 164 people incarcerated for supervision violations, family members, government officials, practitioners, advocates, and experts, we document the tripwires in these states leading to incarceration.  These include burdensome conditions imposed without providing resources; violations for minor slip-ups; lengthy incarceration while alleged violations are adjudicated; flawed procedures; and disproportionately harsh sentences for violations.  The report shows that, nationwide,most people locked up for supervision violations were not convicted of new offenses — rather, they were incarcerated for breaking the rules of their supervision, such as for using drugs or alcohol, failing to report address changes, or not following the rules of supervision-mandated programs.  Of those who were incarcerated for new offenses, in our focus states, many were for conduct like possessing drugs; public order offenses such as disorderly conduct or resisting arrest; misdemeanor assaultive conduct; or shoplifting....

The root causes of these violations, the report documents, are often a lack of resources and services, unmet health needs, and racial bias.The report also draws attention to marked racial disparities in who is subjected to supervision and how authorities enforce it. In practice, supervision in many parts of the US has become a system to control and warehouse people who are struggling with an array of economic and health-related challenges, without offering meaningful solutions to those underlying problems.

July 31, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The Prisoner and the Polity"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

At resentencing, Senator Rand Paul's attacker gets additional 13 months (eight to be served in federal prison, six in home confinement)

This local article, headline "KY man who tackled U.S. Sen. Rand Paul sentenced to another 13 months confinement," provides some details from a high-profile resentencing that took place yesterday and included a number of interesting elements:

The neighbor who lost his temper and attacked Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2017, breaking six of his ribs, has been sentenced to an additional 13 months confinement.  A federal judge initially sentenced Rene Boucher to 30 days in jail for the November 2017 attack, along with 100 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine.

During a video hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Leitman handed down the new sentence against Boucher — eight months in prison and six months on home confinement.  However, Leitman gave Boucher credit for the 30 days he already served, so he will have seven more months behind bars.

Prosecutors had appealed the initial sentence for Boucher, arguing it was unreasonably light, and won the right to try to get a longer sentence.  That led to Monday’s hearing.  The new sentence for Boucher still wasn’t as long as the government wanted.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Shepard objected to the sentence, which could lead to yet another appeal by the government for stiffer sentence for Boucher.

The attack made national news because of Paul’s position, but prosecutors have acknowledged it had nothing to do with politics.  Rather, Boucher, who lived next door to Paul in a gated community in Bowling Green, attacked Paul because he got angry over Paul stacking limbs and other yard waste near their shared property line, according to the court record....

Police first charged Boucher with misdemeanor assault in state court, but the federal government stepped in and prosecuted him under a law barring assaults on members of Congress.  Under advisory guidelines, Boucher faced a potential sentence of 21 to 27 months. Federal judges can impost sentences below those guidelines.

In handing down a lower sentence, U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani cited Boucher’s military service, his involvement in his church and her belief that the attack was out of character for Boucher.  However, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Battani didn’t give sufficient weight to the seriousness of Paul’s injuries or the need for deterrence, and didn’t sufficiently address the issue of the big difference in Boucher’s sentence and others involving federal assault cases.

Shepard renewed a call for a 21-month sentence for Boucher because of the severity of Paul’s injuries.  The punishment also should to be tough enough deter similar attacks, Shepard said.  “The court I think needs to send the message . . . that we cannot continue as a society to resort to violence,” Shepard said.

Paul and his wife, Kelly, submitted written statements about the attack the first time Boucher was sentenced, but spoke in person during the video hearing Monday.  Paul said he’d never had cross words with Boucher and so had no idea he was unhappy before Boucher blindsided him.  Paul described the intense pain and his struggles to breathe after the attack, as well as the history of physical problems since, including bouts with pneumonia, night sweats and fever; coughing up blood; surgery to remove part of his scarred lung; and still more surgery to drain infected fluid.  Paul said his lung capacity will likely be reduced the rest of his life, and he has chronic pain.  “I don’t know what a night without pain is like, or a day without pain,” Paul said....

Boucher’s attorney, Matthew J. Baker, said Boucher is “profoundly sorry” for the attack, but argued against any additional time for Boucher, a physician.  Baker said Boucher’s initial sentence was appropriate, and that he had faced additional punishment by way of a judgment of more than $600,000 in a state civil lawsuit Paul filed against him over the attack.  That judgment included $375,000 in punitive damages, which by definition are to punish a defendant....

Lietman said it was heartbreaking to hear Paul and his wife describe the fallout from the attack. But the judge said he was choosing a sentence below the guideline range for several reasons, including Boucher’s long record of work with his church, his eight years as a U.S. Army doctor, the fact that the attack was out of character, and the damage to his reputation from the crime.  Leitman said $375,000 punitive damage award in state court also figured into his decision. “That’s a lot of punishment,” he said.

Leitman did not set a date for Boucher to begin the sentence.

I would be surprised if the feds go through with another appeal, and I would be even more surprised if they would prevail on a second appeal.  The Sixth Circuit panel opinion reversing the initial 30-day sentence made much of the original "dramatic downward variance" from a guideline minimum of 21 months, and Judge Lietman seems to have addressed some of the panel's chief concerns when imposing a longer sentence closer to the bottom of the advisory range.  And Judge Lietman's reliance on the civil punishment from the sizable punitive damage award would seem to be a distinctive additional factor supporting the reasonableness of a sentence below the guideline range.

Prior related posts:

July 28, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Never-ending New Jersey drunk driving case highlights fundamental reason why sentencing is so dang hard

9889228-0-image-a-67_1550300070445I am fond of saying "sentencing is dang hard."  (A version of a speech I gave with this title appears in the February 2020 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter and also is available here via SSRN.)  An appellate ruling this  week in a high-profile New Jersey case has me recalling this point; this local press piece, headlined "Amy Locane will be sentenced for a fourth time on fatal 2010 DWI charge," provides part of the backstory (with a little emphasis added):

A state appellate court ruled Wednesday that actress Amy Locane, convicted in connection with a fatal drunken driving accident a decade ago in Montgomery, must be sentenced for a fourth time because the first three times were either illegal sentences or sentences imposed outside the state's criminal code.

In a 41-page decision, the appellate court ruled that the latest sentence in the case, handed down by Superior Court Judge Kevin Shanahan in February 2019, was "illogical" based on an "unauthorized sentencing theory" that weighed on what he called "the yin and yang" of the case's facts....

James Wronko, Locane's attorney, said he will ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision. "I don't know what society gains by putting the mother of two back in jail," Wronko said.

Shanahan sentenced Locane to five years in prison, but stayed the sentence because he did not consider her a flight risk. The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office argued the sentence should not be stayed and appealed the judge's decision.

Locane previously had been sentenced to three years in state prison on charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto in connection with the death of Helene Seeman in the crash.  Her husband, Fred, was severely injured in the crash as the couple were turning into their driveway of their weekend home at 9 p.m. on June 27, 2010.  Locane is an actress who starred with Johnny Depp in “Cry-Baby” and was a featured actress on the TV series “Melrose Place.”...

The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office first appealed the the three-year sentence that was handed down by retired Superior Court Judge Robert Reed who presided over the trial.  Locane served 85 percent of that sentence at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County.  She also successfully completed the conditions of her parole a year ago, Wronko said.  "She's led an exemplary life since her release," Wronko said....

In handing down the five-year sentence, Shanahan said that imposing a higher sentence "would have been an exercise in bad judgment, just like all the others."  Shanahan also said that he was not bound by previous Appellate Court rulings in the case.

"Clearly, changes in (Locane's) personal circumstances warrant divergence," the Appellate Court wrote in the decision, "but it is rudimentary that a trial judge is bound by our prior decision. (Shanahan) ignored the prior findings, while seemingly giving them lip service."

So, in a sad drunk driving case involving a fatal result, New Jersey courts have now been trying and failing to figure out Amy Locane's "right" sentence for now a full decade.  In that time, the defendant has served out a three-year ("wrong") prison sentence (and also paid $1.5 million of a nearly $5 million civil settlement).  I can only speculate about how many (mostly taxpayer) resources have been expended in all these court proceedings trying to get to the "right" sentence, and I wonder whether the surviving victims are really eager to start another decade of wrangling over finding the "right" sentence.

Of course, I keep putting "right" in quotes when discussing this matter because there obviously is no clear right sentence in this case (or most cases).  Sentencing is so dang hard in part because it lacks a clear right/wrong metric no matter what sentencing philosophies one is inclined to adopt.  Moreover, this case especially spotlights the fundamental challenge balancing aggravating offense factors (especially a victim's death) with mitigating offender factors (addiction and lack of criminal history).  The latest appellate opinion (available here) showcases how sentencing judges here have generally focused on the offender, while the appellate judges have focused on the offense (at p. 36):

In this case, the focus has repeatedly shifted away from the crime defendant committed to her individual characteristics at the expense of imposing a just sentence reflective of her offense and the harm she caused.  That she was struggling with addiction did not authorize the court to close its eyes to the harm she inflicted on the victims, the victims' family, and the community.  That harm will never dissipate.  The loss of a loved one, and serious physical injury to another, can never be compensated.

Ironically, another round of resentencing strikes me as a fool's errand in part because I agree with this court's sentiment that the harm caused by Amy Locane "will never dissipate" and "can never be compensated."  Because there is no way the law through any form of punishment can make this kind of harm go away, I struggle to see what is likely to be achieved when the state uses more taxpayer resources to  try, yet again, to add still more years to Locane's sentence.

Notably, there is no mention in this latest appellate opinion of just what the victims of this now-long-ago offense might now want.  I hope for their sake that starting another decade of wrangling over Locane's sentence does not rub salt into their wounds.  I also wonder if some kind of restorative justice efforts have been tried or might now be started to enable the victims and the defendant here to get some measure of peace and resolution that the New Jersey courts have been unable so far to provide.

Prior related post:

July 24, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Perspectives from A to Z on how to reform incarceration nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 17, 2020

"A Vision for the Modern Prosecutor"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new five-page document produced by the Executive Session of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College. Here is the piece's introduction and some key elements:

In the wake of unprecedented and overdue attention on the criminal legal system and its role in our Nation’s legacy of racial injustice, as elected prosecutors and members of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution’s Executive Session on the Role of the Prosecutor, we believe that it is possible to describe and call for an emerging vision for the role of a modern prosecutor.  In doing so, we find it necessary to contrast this vision with a description of the traditional ways that prosecutors have carried out their responsibilities.  In this paper we describe this contrast between traditional practice and a vision of the future by comparing their conceptions of justice, modes of operation, culture, accountability, and metrics. In making these contrasts, we celebrate the power and potential of the current wave of prosecutorial reform that we are witnessing around the country. We have high hopes that this movement will support the broader re-examination of our society’s response to crime and aspiration for justice.

Conceptions of Justice

Traditionally: Prosecutors have defined their role principally as part of a larger criminal justice system that operates with a primary focus on case processing....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors explicitly set aside this notion of the criminal justice system as a case processing apparatus.... 

 

Modes of Operation

Traditionally: Prosecutors have been largely reactive....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors no longer regard themselves as recipients of other actors’ cases or as limited by existing system options with respect to dispositions of those cases....

 

Culture

Traditionally: Prosecutors have been acculturated to consider themselves to be the “us,” and the “good guys,” in an “us vs. them” and “good vs. bad” world....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors recognize the complexity of the people with whom they engage and of the matters to which they attend....

 

Accountability and Metrics

Traditionally: Prosecutors have relied on internal, narrow, and often ill-defined standards for judging their performance....

We believe the future of prosecution requires that: Prosecutors develop broad, explicit and transparent standards and expectations for their actions and outcomes....

Prosecutors must make violence and violence prevention a top priority.

July 17, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"Reforming Federal Sentencing: A Call for Equality-Infused Menschlichkeit"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Nora V. Demleitner now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This piece, which serves as an Introduction to the Symposium Issue of the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, addresses both questions of pedagogy and federal sentencing. It starts by highlighting the value of a symposium on federal sentencing as a teaching, research, and advocacy tool before it turns to sentencing reform specifically.

Federal sentencing remains a highly contested area because it raises stark questions of equality and equitable treatment.  Sentencing has long been unfair to minority defendants, African Americans in particular, though the guidelines have in part mitigated racial disparities.  Still the injustices perpetuated through federal sentencing have reinforced larger racial biases and contributed to ongoing racial stereotyping.

Empirical research and today’s technology can help both decrease race-based differentials and bring about shorter and more rehabilitation-focused sentencing, as long as we have the will to follow their lead.  Ultimately, we need to bring compassion, mercy, and Menschlichkeit to sentencing. Criminal defendants are not the “other” but “of us.”  Those values need to be part of our legal experience and of legal education lest law become merely an exercise in logic or ideology.

July 15, 2020 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, June 26, 2020

"How to have less crime with less punishment"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Hill commentary authored by Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine.  Here are excerpts:

For too long, America has been under the illusion that punishment is an effective medicine against crime.  This has led to the largest prison population in the world, a system of mass incarceration that has destroyed families and neighborhoods caught in circles of arrests, imprisonment, probation, and legal discrimination.  And with very little to show for it. It did not help win the War on Drugs or prevent the current opioid epidemic, nor did it play a significant role in the crime declines in cities like New York.  The criminal justice system does not even help to prevent crime through incapacitation, by locking offenders out of society, as this, in the most positive estimate, reduces crime by only 0.4 percent.

So, the idea that we can only get law and order through punishment is simply flawed. Surely, there should not be impunity, and punishment is definitely part of any law and order mix. But, it should just not be its chief focus. There are much better ways to prevent crime....

If we simply make crime harder, we need less police and less punishment.  There is a clear road ahead here. If you want to reduce homicide and many forms of gang violence, and many suicides while you’re at it, just ban guns, or at least severely restrict access to them.  Just consider how none of America’s top-ten mass shootings occurred during the federal ban on assault rifles.  And this has the added advantage that we deescalate police work, as cops have less reason to be afraid and less reason to act like soldiers in war zones.

Next, we can ensure that people do not have to resort to crime in the first place.  We clearly know that when there is less poverty, there is less crime, and when people get to finish their education, again, less crime. So let’s fight crime by fighting poverty and investing in education.  And for those who do resort to crime, we can turn to our next layer of defense: treatment.  Perhaps the most surprising thing we learned when we looked through decades of research was that rehabilitation programs that provide cognitive therapy, aggression training and substance abuse treatment actually work very well.  They are shown to reduce crime between 18-60 percent.

Finally, we can also have less crime if more people think the law is legitimate.  In fact, the way we perceive the criminal justice system is directly related to our willingness to engage in crime.  If people feel that the legal system treats them with respect, that it listens to their concerns, and that it acts impartially and neutrally, they will be less likely to commit a crime.  We must make our legal system fair and just because in doing so, we not only end the racism and brutality that have existed for so long, but we also fight crime.

This is just the tip of the iceberg: there are many insights about how to reduce crime based on scientific evidence. Yet most of these are ignored in our politics and in our public media.  Why do we rely on scientists to fight the coronavirus, but fail to heed their findings when addressing crime and public safety?

We have simply fooled ourselves in believing that punishment and tough-on-crime are the keys.  We have given in to our punishment reflex. It’s time to overcome our gut feelings, follow the evidence, and build a criminal justice system that starts to deliver the justice and safety it so direly owes us all.

June 26, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Senators Durbin and Grassley introduce new bill to make modest, but still important, reforms to federal elderly home release and compassionate release

As reported in this new press release, "U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), authors of the bipartisan First Step Act, landmark criminal justice reform legislation, introduced new, bipartisan legislation to reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release from federal prisons. "  The release provides some notable contextual data and well some details of the bill's particulars:

Sadly, more than 80 federal prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19 have died as a result of the virus, more than half of whom were over 60 years old.  Elderly offenders, the fastest-growing portion of the prison population, have much lower rates of recidivism and are much more expensive to incarcerate due to their health care needs. 

Since enactment of the First Step Act, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has opposed the vast majority of compassionate release petitions.  In 2019, 1,735 requests for release were initiated by or on behalf of prisoners, of which 1,501 were denied by wardens and 226 of which were forwarded to the BOP Director.  Of these 226, BOP approved only 55 and denied 171.  Since March of this year, only about 500 inmates have been granted compassionate release in the midst of the pandemic, nearly all of them by court order over the objections of the Department of Justice and BOP.  BOP has reportedly refused to approve any compassionate releases based on vulnerability to COVID-19.

“At the end of 2018, Congress came together to pass one of the most important criminal justice reform laws in a generation.  Now we have an obligation to ensure that this law is properly implemented,” Durbin said.  “My legislation with Senator Grassley would help ensure that the most vulnerable prisoners are quickly released or transferred to home confinement for the remainder of their sentence – just as the First Step Act intended.  This is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect against the spread of this deadly virus.  I’m hopeful that this commonsense, bipartisan legislation will pass swiftly through the House and Senate and will be signed into law.”

“In the middle of a pandemic the federal government ought to be doing everything it can to protect the inmates in its care.  We already established important home confinement and early release programs in 2018, which are especially important right now as older inmates face very serious risks because of the virus.  Our bill will clarify and expand those programs we wrote into the First Step Act, so we can better protect these vulnerable populations,” Grassley said.

Specifically, the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act would reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release by:

  • Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including reductions for good time credits (H.R. 4018, which passed the House by voice vote);
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least 50 percent of their term of imprisonment;
  • Clarifying that elderly nonviolent D.C. Code offenders in BOP custody are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release;
  • Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (based on the First Step Act’s compassionate release provision); and
  • Providing that, during the period of the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability is a basis for compassionate release and shortening the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days.

The following organizations support the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act:  Aleph Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty, Drug Policy Alliance, Due Process Institute, FAMM, Federal Public and Community Defenders, FreedomWorks, Justice Action Network, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Right on Crime, Sentencing Project, Taking Action For Good, Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), and Tzedek Association.

A section-by-section of the legislation is available here.

Bill text is available here.

I have placed in bold the provisions of this new bill that strike me as particularly noteworthy and that could prove most consequential. In short form, this bill would seem to authorize (though not require) judges to move most persons over the age of 60 from federal prison into home confinement as soon as they approach serving about half of their initially imposed prison sentence.  Sound like a great idea to me, and it also sounds like another version of another kind of "parole light" proposal of the sort I discussed a few years ago in this article

June 23, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

"The Categorical Imperative as a Decarceral Agenda"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay authored by Jessica Eaglin recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Despite recent modest reductions in state prison populations, Franklin Zimring argues in his forthcoming book that mass incarceration remains persistent and intractable.  As a path forward, Zimring urges states to adopt pragmatic, structural reforms that incentivize the reduction of prison populations through a “categorical imperative,” meaning, by identifying subcategories of offenders best suited for diversion from prison sentences at the state level.  This decarceral method is at odds with popular sentencing reforms in the states.

By exploring the tensions between reform trends in practice and Zimring’s proscription, this Essay illuminates a deeper concern with sentencing reforms in the era of mass incarceration.  Reforms focused on categorizing offenders can obscure and sustain policymakers’ persistent tendency to frame social problems as matters of crime and punishment. Recognizing this shortcoming upfront has important implications for scholars and policymakers alike when contemplating the methodologies that should inform sentencing reforms going forward.

June 20, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Restorative Justice From Prosecutors' Perspective"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now available via SSRN and authored by Lara Bazelon and Bruce Green. Here is its abstract:

Restorative justice processes have been promoted as an alternative to criminal adjudication for many years outside the United States and, in recent years, in the United States as well.  In the United States, restorative justice processes are used in some jurisdictions in cases involving juvenile offenders or low-level, nonviolent offenses by adults, but they have rarely been used in cases of adult felony offenders charged with serious violent crimes.  Whether restorative justice processes will be used more broadly depends largely on whether prosecutors become receptive to their use.

A handful of newly elected “progressive prosecutors” have expressed interest in applying restorative justice processes in these and other kinds of felony cases involving adult defendants.  But conventional prosecutors generally remain uninterested in or hostile to restorative justice, even though most accept problem-solving courts and other alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.  This Article explores why mainstream U.S. prosecutors are disposed against restorative justice and suggest how their concerns might best be addressed by restorative justice proponents.

June 17, 2020 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

"The Corrective Justice Theory of Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Jacob Bronsther recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The American penal system is racist, degrading, and inefficient.  Nonetheless, we cannot give up on punishment entirely, for social peace and cooperation depend on the deterrent threat of the criminal sanction.  The question — central to determining the degree to which punishment is justified — is why society’s need for general deterrence is an offender’s problem.  Why is it his responsibility to scare off would-be future offenders?  His past offense does not magically render him accountable for the actions of total strangers.  Existing theories of criminal justice are unable to answer this question.

This Article fills the lacuna — justifying state punishment, but, more importantly, establishing its moral limits — with the help of tort law principles.  It argues that deterrent punishment can be justified as a means of rectifying an offender’s contribution to “criminality” — not merely the perceived, but the objective threat of crime in society. Criminality chills the exercise of our rights, forces us to take expensive precautions, and exposes us to unreasonable risks of harm.  By having increased the level of criminality in the past, an offender owes a duty of repair to society as a whole, a duty of “corrective justice” in the language of tort theorists.  He can fulfill this duty by decreasing the threat of crime in the future.  In this way, deterrent punishment does not merely sacrifice him to limit the problem of future crime, for which he has no personal responsibility.  Rather, it forces him to fulfill his own duty of repair.

This novel theory — the corrective justice theory of punishment — entails three sentencing principles.  First, punishment must in fact deter crime and must be the most efficient means of doing so.  Second, however efficient it may be, punishment must not harm an offender more than is required to repair his criminality contribution.  Third, even if it is both efficient and reparative, punishment must not harm an offender to a degree that is entirely out of proportion to the harm prevented by doing so.  The Article demonstrates how these three principles, in combination, demand a radical reduction in American sentencing scales.  The Article thus concludes that the corrective justice view presents stable moral ground for the decarceral movement in America.

June 11, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 08, 2020

New Federal Defenders fact sheet highlights flaws in recent USSC report on incarceration lengths and recividism

This post from late April flagged this notable report by the US Sentencing Commission, titled "Length of Incarceration and Recidivism," which reported, inter alia, that the "Commission consistently found that incarceration lengths of more than 120 months had a deterrent effect."  The empiricism of this report was quickly questioned by two academics with empirical props, Jennifer Doleac and John Pfaff, and now the Sentencing Resource Counsel of the Federal Public and Community Defenders have produced this lengthy fact-sheet and this two-pager detailing problems with this USSC's report.

The nine-page "fact sheet" from the defenders is titled "Flawed U.S. Sentencing Commission Report Misstates Current Knowledge," and here is its initial "Summary":

In April 2020, the U. S. Sentencing Commission issued a report entitled “Length of Incarceration and Recidivism.”  In its report, the Commission claimed that “incarceration lengths of more than 120 months had a deterrent effect.” No effect was found for sentences 60 months or less, while sentences between 60 and 120 months yielded inconsistent results.

None of the findings in this report should be used by judges, legislators, or the Commission to make decisions of any kind.  The report badly misrepresents the research literature (Section I), uses a weak methodology for inferring causation (Section II), and fails properly to control for defendants’ criminal history (Section IV).  The report states its findings in a misleading form prone to misinterpretation and exaggeration (Section III).  The anomalous pattern of findings fits no theory of deterrence (Section VI), and no previous study has found the same pattern.  Further, it is unlikely the report’s findings would replicate or withstand tests for robustness, but because the Commission will not release data underlying the report, independent evaluation is impossible (Section IX). 

As a bipartisan agency, charged with being a “clearinghouse” for information on the effectiveness of sentencing practices, the Commission should issue accurate reports on the current state of knowledge regarding important policy questions. This report fails to meet that standard.

Prior related post:

June 8, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

"Retributive Expungement"

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

Expungement relief was introduced in the mid-twentieth century to reward and incentivize rehabilitation for arrestees and ex-offenders and to protect their privacy.  Recently, many states have broadened their expungement remedies, and those remedies remain useful given the negative effects of public criminal records on reentry.  But recent scholarship has suggested an “uptake gap,” meaning many who are eligible never obtain relief.  Despite broadening eligibility, petitioners face substantial obstacles to filing, pre-hearing hurdles, waiting periods, and difficult standards of review without the assistance of counsel.  And even when expungement is granted, the recipients are basically left on their own to guarantee the efficacy of the remedy.  Some of these attributes of expungement were originally conceived as features, designed to ensure only the most rehabilitated received relief, allowing the state to continue to pursue public safety objectives with public criminal records.  But the cold reality of expungement procedure leaves many petitioners facing insurmountable obstacles that amplify the effects of the punishment originally imposed.

In exploring this reality, this Article illustrates that expungement procedure is stuck in a rehabilitative and privacy-centric paradigm.  While this framework inspired the creation of expungement remedies and recent reforms, it also has justified onerous procedural obstacles and the placing of the burden of persuasion on the petitioner rather than the state.  Outside of automated expungement, which is still relatively rare and restricted to only certain types of petitions, most expungement regimes in substance or through procedure invert what should be the state’s burden to justify retention of criminal records that enable extra punishment by state and private actors.  An alternative theoretical basis for expungement is necessary to convince policymakers and decision-makers of the need for broader substantive and procedural reform.

This Article suggests a different paradigm: retributive based expungement.  It proposes that incorporating retributive constraints that already underlie the criminal system can benefit petitioners.  Plenty of arrestees do not deserve stigma and ex-offenders have done their time, meaning punitive stigma from public criminal records can amount to unwarranted punishment.  A retributive-minded expungement procedure would all but guarantee expungement in the case of arrests, where the desert basis is questionable, and would place the burden of proof on the state for convictions once desert has been satisfied.  As such, this approach can supplement the case for broader eligibility, automated expungement, and favorable pre-hearing procedures that limit the uptake gap.  It also has legal and political viability given that many states already maintain retributivist constraints on sentencing and given that huge swaths of the public perceive desert as a crucial component of any criminal justice issue.  In fact, some states are already moving in this direction and can serve as a model for the rest of the country.  In short, retributivist constraints can trim procedural overgrowth to supplement substantive reforms that already recognize the disproportionate effects of a public criminal record.

June 3, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Unconstitutional Incarceration: Applying Strict Scrutiny to Criminal Sentences"

The title of this post is the title of this new Yale Law Journal note authored by Salil Dudani.  Here is its abstract:

The deprivation of a fundamental right triggers strict scrutiny, and freedom from physical restraint is a fundamental right.  Indeed, the right to be free from physical restraint lies at the very core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.  In the contexts of pretrial detention and civil commitment, courts hold that due process prohibits unnecessary incarceration and requires the government to prove the necessity of incarceration in each individual case.  Without explanation, courts do not apply these same principles to criminal sentences, which just as surely infringe on physical liberty.  This Note argues that they should: there is no good reason to exempt sentences of confinement from the fundamental due-process right to freedom from physical restraint.  If the government cannot prove that a criminal sentence is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest, the sentence is unconstitutional, even when it is purportedly required by a statute establishing a “mandatory minimum sentence” for the crime of conviction.  The Note discusses how courts should implement this scrutiny and suggests that state courts should lead the way in doing so.

May 31, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"The Paradox of Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting-looking new article authored by Christopher Lewis and just posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The idea that we should respond more severely to repeated wrongdoing than we do to first-time misconduct is one of our most deeply held moral principles, and one of the most deeply entrenched principles in the criminal law and sentencing policy. Prior convictions trigger, on average, a six-fold increase in the length of punishment in U.S. states that use sentencing guidelines.  And three-strikes, habitual offender, and career criminal laws mandate extremely harsh penalties for repeat offending.  Most of the people we lock up in the U.S. — especially those who are Black or Latino, and poor — have at least one prior conviction. The “recidivist sentencing premium” is thus one of the main determinants of race- and class-based disparity in our prisons, and of the overall size of our incarcerated population.

This article shows, counterintuitively, that given the current law and policy of collateral consequences, and the social conditions they engender, judges and sentencing commissions have moral reason to do exactly the opposite of what they currently do: impose a recidivist sentencing discount, rather than a premium. Prior convictions should be treated as a presumptive mitigating factor, rather than an aggravating one.  This thesis goes against the grain of criminal law and policy dating back as far as we know it, virtually the entire scholarly literature, and millenia of social tradition.  But this article shows that it follows from a number of quite ordinary normative and empirical premises. The conclusion might be politically unpalatable, but it is morally unavoidable.

May 19, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Deep Disadvantage, Blameworthiness, and Sentencing"

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

Arguments in favor of a “social adversity” or “rotten social background” defense are substantially stronger than those against.  People disagree in principle whether an affirmative defense of deep disadvantage, paralleling the insanity defense, should be recognized and whether judges should routinely mitigate the severity of sentences imposed on deeply disadvantaged offenders.  The defense should be recognized. It would be unlikely often to result in acquittals but it would strengthen many defendants’ positions in plea negotiations. Mitigation of punishment should be routine.  Few credible arguments can be made that a deeply disadvantaged background is not a material characteristic that should be taken into account in sentencing.  Unfortunately, informal mitigation of punishments is not enough. The severity and rigidity of American sentencing laws often deny judges the necessary authority.  The moral challenges presented by deeply disadvantaged offenders cannot adequately be addressed without creation of a new affirmative defense.

May 15, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"The First Step Act and the Brutal Timidity of Criminal Law Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece authored by Mark Osler and just posted to SSRN.  The title and author make me especially excited to have this new read, and here is its abstract:

It took decades to partially correct the egregiously wrong 100-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in federal law. Marijuana is still a Schedule I narcotic, despite universal condemnation of that categorization.  Even when we get it, criminal law reform comes achingly slowly and with brutal timidity, at a stunning cost in lives and freedom.  This article explores the grim history of this dynamic in the modern United States, explores the causes, and suggests solutions. It will appear in the New England Law Journal with responses from a variety of legal analysts.

May 13, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Length of Incarceration and Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of of this notable new report just released today by the US Sentencing Commission.  Here is a basic summary and key findings from this USSC webpage:

Summary

Length of Incarceration and Recidivism is the seventh publication in the Commission’s recent series on recidivism. This study examines the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism, specifically exploring three potential relationships that may exist: incarceration as having a deterrent effect, a criminogenic effect, or no effect on recidivism. (Published April 29, 2020)

Report Findings
  • The Commission consistently found that incarceration lengths of more than 120 months had a deterrent effect.
    • Each of the research designs estimated that offenders incarcerated for more than 120 months were less likely to recidivate eight years after release. In the two models with the larger sample sizes, offenders incarcerated for more than 120 months were approximately 30 percent less likely to recidivate relative to a comparison group receiving less incarceration. In the third model, offenders incarcerated for more than 120 months were approximately 45 percent less likely to recidivate relative to a comparison group receiving less incarceration.
  • In two models, the deterrent effect extended to incarceration lengths of more than 60 months.
    • Specifically, offenders incarcerated for more than 60 months up to 120 months were approximately 17 percent less likely to recidivate relative to a comparison group sentenced to a shorter period of incarceration.
  • For incarceration lengths of 60 months or less, the Commission did not find any statistically significant criminogenic or deterrent effect.
    • When focusing on the shortest period of incarceration studied (12 to 24 months), the research designs yielded varying results, neither of which were statistically significant nor sufficiently reliable to make evidence-based conclusions.

April 29, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 06, 2020

Exciting new (COVID-free) reduction of LWOP sentence, based in part on "sentencing disparity," using § 3582(c)(1)(A) in US v. Millan

In this post a few weeks ago, just before the COVID-19 outbreak became the urgent basis for lots of sentence reductions under the (so-called compassionate release) statutory provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), I flagged a number of new positive rulings granting sentencing reductions using 3582(c)(1)(A) on various grounds.  I am now pleased to be able spotlight another great ruling that adds to the list of reasons (other than COVID) that have now served as the basis for a sentence reduction, even of a life sentence. 

I must disclose that this new ruling, in US v. Millan, No. 91-CR-685 (LAP) (SDNY April 6, 2020) (download below), is especially meaningful to me because I had the honor of helping Harlan Protass a bit with the motion papers.  But I think all those working on sentence reduction motions will find value in the 45-page Millan opinion's discussion of the factors that justified reducing Eric Millan's sentence from LWOP to time served of 28 years.  I recommend the opinion in full, and the opening and closing paragraphs highlight the essentials:

Before the Court is Eric Millan’s motion, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), for an Order reducing his life sentence (of which he has already served more than 28 years) to time served.1 The Government opposed the motion, and the parties filed additional letters. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted....

Mr. Millan’s extraordinary rehabilitation, together with his remorse and contrition, his conduct as model prisoner and man of extraordinary character, his leadership in the religious community at FCI Fairton, his dedication to work with at-risk youth and suicide prevention, and the support of BOP staff at FCI Fairton, including their opinion that if released, Mr. Millan would be a productive member of society and no danger to others, and the sentencing disparity that would result from further incarceration all constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying a reduction in sentence.  Accordingly, for all of the foregoing reasons, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), Eric Millan’s motion for a reduction of sentence is granted, and his life sentence is reduced to time served.

Download US v. Millan 91-CR-685 (LAP). Order Granting Compassionate Release

As the title of this post highlights, I think it is especially notable and important that the court stressed "the sentencing disparity that would result from further incarceration" as one of the bases for finding that this case involved "extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying a reduction in sentence."  Many persons who are serving the most extreme federal sentences have often been subject to a mandatory minimum term or a trial penalty or some other case-processing sentencing reality that has resulted in a much longer sentence for one defendant than has been served by a number of similarly situated defendants.  Given that Congress stressed to judges in § 3553(a)(6) "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct," this kind of application of § 3582(c)(1)(A) seems to be a sound and sensible way to remedy problematic sentencing disparities in appropriate cases like Eric Millan's.

UPDATE: I learned this afternoon of another (COVID-free) sentence reduction ruling today in US v. Decator, No. CCB-95-0202 (D. Md. April 6, 2020) (download below).  Here is how this opinion starts and some key passages:

Kittrell Decator is a federal prisoner who is serving a 633-month sentence for convictions stemming from his participation in several armed bank robberies in the early 1990s. To date, Decator has served over 25 years of his sentence. Now pending is Decator’s motion for sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) (the “compassionate release” statute). The government opposes the motion, and Decator has replied. For the reasons explained below, the motion will be granted and Decator’s sentence reduced to time served....

Multiple district courts have reasoned that “the First Step Act’s change in how sentences should be calculated when multiple § 924(c) charges are included in the same indictment constitutes an extraordinary and compelling reason under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).” See United States v. Owens, No. 97-CR-2546-CAB, ECF 93 at 4 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 20, 2020) (collecting cases). The court agrees with this reasoning. The fact that Decator, if sentenced today for the same conduct, would likely receive a dramatically lower sentence than the one he is currently serving, constitutes an “extraordinary and compelling” reason justifying potential sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i)....

The court acknowledges that Decator’s offenses were indeed serious. While no one was physically injured, Decator’s actions caused psychological pain to his victims. The court believes that the 25-plus years in prison Decator has already served reflect the seriousness of his conduct and demonstrate the need for deterrence, public safety, and respect for the law. But Decator’s continued incarceration would be both disproportionate to the seriousness of his offense and to what Congress now deems appropriate for this kind of conduct.

Download Decator Decision

April 6, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Communicating Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Marah Stith McLeod just posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Does it matter whether convicted offenders understand why they are being punished? In the death penalty context, the Supreme Court has said yes; a prisoner who cannot understand the state’s reasons for imposing a death sentence may not be executed.  Outside the capital context, the answer is less clear.  This Article focuses on why and how states should help all offenders make sense of their sanctions, whether imposed for retribution, for deterrence, for incapacitation, or for rehabilitation.

Judges today sometimes try to explain sentences to criminal offenders so that they know the purposes of their suffering. But judges are busy, defendants are not always interested, and the law often treats such explanations as unimportant or even unwise.  Legislatures, moreover, rarely convey the purposes of statutory penalties, plea bargaining obscures the reasons for punishment, and the experience of punishment does not always reflect its social aims.

Scholars and critics of American criminal justice tend to pay little attention to these deficits.  Perhaps explaining individual sentences seems unimportant compared to the larger effort to humanize and rationalize penal policy.  In fact, however, the two are intertwined.

Communicating the reasons for punishment humanizes offenders by engaging with them as reasoning beings worthy of society’s continued concern — not as unreasoning animals simply to be harnessed or caged. The process of articulating punishment goals also can rationalize sentencing by reducing error, bias, and excess.

We can build a legal culture that respects offenders and advances punishment rationality by communicating the reasons for criminal sanctions. Legislatures can clarify the purposes of statutory penalties, prosecutors can explain how sanctions based on plea deals serve legitimate goals, judges can spell out the social objectives of sentences in terms that offenders can understand, and prison and probation authorities can convey sentencing rationales during the experience of punishment itself.

I had the honor and pleasure of reading an earlier draft of this paper as part of an AALS event, and upon first read I considered this piece a very important contribution to the literature.  A few months later, amidst a global pandemic, I think it even more important to consider how decisions in the criminal justice system communicate that offenders are still "worthy of society’s continued concern."

March 21, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 08, 2020

"The Janus Face of Imprisonment: Contrasting Judicial Conceptions of Imprisonment Purposes in the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of the United States"

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

This paper considers how the Supreme Court of the United States (SC) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) apply, interpret and frame abstract imprisonment purposes, and how they view their relevance to prison conditions, while discussing the constitutionality of prison conditions.  The paper argues that the SC and the ECtHR view, conceptualise and interpret the purposes of imprisonment differently.  Regarding the purposes of retribution and rehabilitation specifically, the analysis presented in the paper exposes a ‘Janus face’, meaning that each purpose can, and is, interpreted in two different, and almost contrasting ways. 

The paper offers three themes regarding the conceptualisation of imprisonment purposes by the SC and the ECtHR: First, the relationship between the purposes of sentencing and imprisonment along the penal continuum, and the role of rehabilitation in a prison regime: should sentencing purposes be relatively static during their implementation in prison, meaning that retributive-oriented sentencing purposes should be pursued (SC), or should they conversely progress with the passage of time, from retribution to resocialization as the primary purpose of imprisonment (ECtHR).  Second, the meaning of retributivism in regard to prison conditions: should prisoners pay a debt to society by suffering in restrictive prison conditions (SC), or is retributivism achieved by atonement and by finding ways to compensate or repair harms caused by crime (ECtHR).  Third, the way in which prison rehabilitation is framed and understood: should prison rehabilitation be seen as a risk management tool aimed purely at lowering recidivism (SC), or as a moral concept grounded in a prisoner’s ability to change his life and belief in personal responsibility for one’s actions (ECtHR).  Possible theoretical implications and general policy implications are considered in the paper.

March 8, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Sentencing is Dang Hard... And So..."

The title of this post is the (silly?) title that I gave to a speech I delivered a few years ago when having the honor to receive the 2018 Richard P. Kern Memorial Award from the National Association of Sentencing Commissions. A cleaned-up version of the speech appears now in the February 2020 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, and I have posted the text here via SSRN. Here is the short piece's abstract:

This essay, adapted from a speech upon receipt of the 2018 Richard P. Kern Memorial Award from the National Association of Sentencing Commissions, details why sentencing is “dang hard” and explores implications of that reality.  The essay argues that the challenges of sentencing not only demand that all jurisdictions have a sentencing commission as an essential permanent agency, but also call for these commissions always to think big and to strive to work deep and wide to study all facets of modern criminal justice systems.  The essay also contends that sentencing errors may be quite common and that, even if we manage to get sentencing “right” at the outset, changes in society and in individuals can make even “right” sentences wrong over time.  Sensible humility about the likelihood of sentencing errors further suggests, for example: at the rule-making stage, having sentencing laws include sunset provisions and having sentencing commissions review and audit major guidelines and related sentencing practices on a regular basis; at the case-specific stage, having far more robust substantive appellate review of sentences and more robust mechanisms for parole and judicial reconsideration and clemency, and even developing more creative means to apply and revise different forms of punishment as time passes and new information is gathered.

February 27, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2020

"Imagining the Progressive Prosecutor"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Benjamin Levin. Here is its abstract:

As criminal justice reform has attracted greater public support, a new brand of district attorney candidate has arrived: the “progressive prosecutors.”  Commentators increasingly have keyed on “progressive prosecutors” as offering a promising avenue for structural change, deserving of significant political capital and academic attention.  This Essay asks an unanswered threshold question: what exactly is a “progressive prosecutor”?  Is that a meaningful category at all, and if so, who is entitled to claim the mantle?  In this Essay, I argue that “progressive prosecutor” means many different things to many different people.  These differences in turn reveal important fault lines in academic and public perceptions of the criminal system and its flaws.

This disagreement or definitional slippage matters, not just for semantic clarity.  Some commentators hail the progressive prosecutor as a new champion of fixing the criminal legal system, while others express skepticism about the transformative potential of even the most progressive DAs.  To the extent that there are fundamental disagreements, then it is critically important to surface them. If resources are being devoted to advancing a progressive prosecutor movement, how unified is that movement?  And, do all the voices pushing for a new approach to prosecution actually agree on what that approach should entail?

In an effort to answer these questions and clarify the terms of debate on progressive prosecutors, this Essay offers a typology of progressive prosecutors.  Rather than mapping all of the candidates and elected officials who have sought or received the mantle, I offer four ideal types: (1) the progressive who prosecutes; (2) the proceduralist prosecutor; (3) the prosecutorical progressive; and (4) the anti-carceral prosecutor.  Each ideal type reflects a different vision of what’s wrong with the criminal system and whether (or to what extent) prosecutors might help in righting those wrongs.

February 24, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Can algorithms help judges make fair decisions?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent public radio piece.  Here are some excerpts from a lengthy article worth the time to read in full:

[I]n 2010, the [Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing] worked on an algorithm, a formula, that would allow a computer to predict how likely a person was to commit another crime and recommend when judges should get more information about a case. The goal was to make sentencing more consistent, reduce prison populations, and lead to less crime.

Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Commission on Sentencing, said compared to judges, an algorithm can process lots of data. “When we started our project, we didn’t look at a handful of cases, we looked at over 200,000 cases to try to see what factors sort of related to positive and negative outcomes. And that’s information that judges didn’t have or didn’t have in a … structured … way.”

The formula will look for patterns based on age, gender, what crime someone is being convicted of, prior convictions and for which crimes, and whether the offender has a juvenile record. It cannot take race into account, or county, which is seen as a proxy for race.

The judge will still make the ultimate decision on sentencing. The algorithm will be rolled out this year, and evaluated after 12 months. It took 10 years to create because it was so controversial.

For one thing, critics were afraid that a tool built from criminal justice data would still discriminate against people of color. Pennsylvania is more than 80% white. Almost half the prison population is black....

There is research on what a risk assessment algorithm will do: Virginia started using one in the early 2000s. Megan Stevenson, assistant professor of law at George Mason University, studied the effects: The number of people in prison did not go down, recidivism did not go down, and black people were slightly more likely to be incarcerated compared to white people, all else being equal.

“The impacts of a risk assessment tool don’t just depend on the statistical properties of the algorithm,” Stevenson said. “They depend on how human beings respond to the algorithm, when they choose to follow it, when they choose to ignore it.”

For example: When young people committed a crime, the risk assessment tool said those people are likely to commit more crime, sentence them harshly. But judges systematically said no. Were the judges wrong? On one hand, it’s well documented that criminals tend to do more crime when they’re young and less when they’re older. Statistically, young age is a strong predictor of future crime. But Stevenson said there is more to a sentencing decision than risk of future crime.

February 23, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Enjoy full day of "The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years" via livestream

CSA at 50_socialBlogging will be light over the next few days as I am in the midst of helping to conduct this amazing conference which started last night at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.  I have had the pleasure and honor of working with the amazing team at The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (@OSULawDEPC), along with the also amazing team at ASU's Academy for Justice (@Academy4Justice), to put together amazing and diverse array of panels and workshops on all sorts of topics relating to the past, present and future of the CSA's development, implementation and enforcement.

The basic agenda for the event can be found at this page, and last night  started with an amazing keynote by the amazing Keith Humphreys, Stanford University, Esther Ting Memorial Professor on "Federal Policy and the Dual Nature of Drugs," followed by an amazing response to keynote by Peter Reuter, University of Maryland, Professor of Public Policy and Criminology asking "Do Drug Problems have more influence on Drug Policy than vice versa?".

I am especially pleased and excited by this list of speakers who are participating, and today begins a series of terrific panels. and I can provide this link with its own links to the livestream for each of the panels. I think every part of the conference will be amazing, and I hope folks can make the time to tune in.

February 21, 2020 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Spirited (but problematic?) advocacy for Bernie Madoff to receive compassionate relief

The New York Times has this notable new opinion piece authored by headlined "Let Bernie Madoff, and Many More, Out of Prison: Compassionate release has to apply to unsympathetic prisoners, if we mean what we say about ending mass incarceration."  I think the spirit of this piece is quite sound, but I am not entirely sold on all of its particulars.  Here are excerpts (with a few lines emphasized for comments to follow):

Recently, Mr. Madoff re-entered the news, as he filed for compassionate release from federal prison.  He is entering the final stages of kidney disease and has less than 18 months to live. The Bureau of Prisons denied his petition, as it does to 94 percent of those filed by incarcerated people.  But the reforms provided in the First Step Act of 2018 allow him to file an appeal with the sentencing court.

Even some who claim to detest the ravages of mass incarceration argue that Mr. Madoff should be denied compassionate release.  He is as close to the financial equivalent of a serial killer as one might encounter.  Still, there is a good argument to be made for compassionate release.  It has little to do with Bernie Madoff, though, and how we feel about his horrendous actions.

If our societal goal is to reduce incarceration, we are going to have to confront the inconvenient truth that retribution cannot be our only penological aim, and justice for victims has to be much more extensive than the incarceration of those who have caused them harm.  We desperately need to shift our cultural impulse to punish harshly and degradingly, and for long periods.

The visceral, retributive reactions to Mr. Madoff’s petition, including from liberals who claim to want to end mass incarceration, reveal the obstacles to transformational criminal justice reform.  The truth is, there is only a small number of entirely “sympathetic” people in prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims.  Those incarcerated for violent offenses compose a vast majority of our prison population, in spite of a false narrative that most people are in there for nonviolent drug offenses.  The pain and harm experienced by their victims is real, and that’s also true for Mr. Madoff’s victims.  But criminal justice policy cannot be constructed in response to our feelings about individual, high-profile cases — the so-called worst of the worst. 

This “worst of the worst” argument, for example, has long undergirded the death penalty, which still stands in 30 states despite its racial and class biases and other flaws that have led hundreds of innocent people to death row.  It is also part of why the Democratic presidential candidates, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, don’t support the enfranchisement of those in prison.  But creating a separate category for Mr. Madoff, sex offenders or those “others” in the criminal justice system will not help end mass incarceration.  There will always be another high-profile case that can impede the implementation of more humane policies.

Those on the left who press for criminal justice reform emphasize “empathy” in their attempts to reframe the conversation about people who have committed crimes. Conservatives use the word “redemption.”  These words carry a profound responsibility: What do they mean for sympathetic and unsympathetic prisoners?  There are 200,000 people over the age of 55 incarcerated in the United States.  The question of compassionate release for Mr. Madoff affects not only him but these others and their victims as well.

Mr. Madoff lost both his sons while incarcerated (one died of cancer) and was unable to attend their funerals; is a social pariah, almost universally condemned; and has spent 11 years in federal prison.  This is not to say he deserves sympathy, but he has been punished.  In Norway, where Anders Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison for a horrific mass murder, 11 years would be considered harsh enough.  Our American punitiveness has distorted our sense of what is an adequate sentence for serious offenses.

When considering compassionate release, we also have to ask: Has the person been rehabilitated?  Does the punishment serve legitimate penological objectives (like deterrence and public safety) other than retribution?  (Something to consider, for instance: The number of Ponzi schemes prosecuted went up, not down after Mr. Madoff’s incarceration.)

Criminal justice reform will fall far short of the dramatic institutional changes needed if the dominant impulse continues to be retribution, and if high-profile cases continue to drive policy.  Compassionate release for those who are aging, terminally ill and dying should be assumed after they’ve served at least 10 years.  It was the offenders’ worst impulses that led them to commit their crimes.  Our justice system should appeal to our higher ethical ambitions.

I agree fully that "retribution cannot be our only penological aim, and justice for victims has to be much more extensive than the incarceration of those who have caused them harm." I also agree fully that criminal justice policy should not "be constructed in response to our feelings about individual, high-profile cases — the so-called worst of the worst" and that we should be troubled if "high-profile cases continue to drive policy." And whether a person has been rehabilitated also seem to me to be an important consideration here.  But I am not sure granting compassionate relief to Bernie Madoff furthers these interests, and I worry it could undermine them.

For starters, it is critical at this stage to realize that we are not really dealing with a "policy" matter, as the FIRST STEP Act altered the policy for compassionate relief and did so in a way that included Bernie Madoff and all other federal prisoners.  Though the FIRST STEP Act has some "worst of the worst" carve-outs in other parts of the Act, but its new process for pursuing compassionate relief applies to all federal prisoners (which is one reason I think it is such an important and valuable part of the Act).  in other words, in this context there is no need to worry about creating any "separate category for Mr. Madoff, sex offenders or those 'others' in the criminal justice system."  If a federal judge decided to deny Madoff compassionate relief, after considering all the facts of Madoff's case and all the factors of 3553(a), that judge will be adjudicating and resolving a single case, not creating any broad "criminal justice policy."

As to the facts of Madoff's case, I have seen little evidence that Madoff has been truly remorseful or rehabilitated.  In fact, this 2016 ABC News article reports that "Madoff has done little to express his remorse or regret to the estimated 20,000 investors in his scheme, many of whom lost their life savings in the $64 billion fraud.  Other than a brief reference to his victims during his sentencing hearing, Madoff has spent a lot of his time behind bars in an effort to rehabilitate his own image and actually shift the blame to the investors for expecting unrealistic returns which he claims is why he set up his fraud."   And though surely Madoff's victims may not speak in one voice on these matters, I suspect many are open to a vision of "justice ... much more extensive than the incarceration," but are concerned that they have not seen any other form of extensive justice achieved here (though a whole lot of assets have been recovered after a decade of work).  Madoff not only committed arguably the worst white-collar offense in US history, but it seems he has not really done all that much to try to make amends.

Though I may be getting too nitpicky here, I wanted to comment on this piece because I found one particular sentence to be particularly disturbing: "The truth is, there is only a small number of entirely “sympathetic” people in prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims."  The truth is, there are tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of entirely "sympathetic" people in US prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims.  Just a quick look at "The Whole Pie" of incarceration shows over 275,000 persons imprisoned for drug offenses and another 200,000 in for "public order" offenses.  Not all of these the underlying crimes were victimless, but even if only one of every ten of these prisoners are "sympathetic," that still gets us to nearly 50,000 sympathetic prisons to consider for release.  Mass incarceration is so very troubling in part because there really are quite a large number of sympathetic cases, and I am particularly eager for there to be continued efforts to give voice to, and get relief for, the huge number of sympathetic folks wasting time (and taxpayer resources) in unduly lengthy prison terms.

This piece rightly notes "there are 200,000 people over the age of 55 incarcerated in the United States" and it is rightly concerned that "compassionate release for Mr. Madoff affects not only him but these others and their victims as well."  But these data and my fears tethered to Madoff's failure to demonstrate remorse run the argument the other way in my view: though I hope there would not be a backlash were Madoff to receive compassionate relief, I worry he could become the poster child for restricting this important relief mechanism for tens of thousands of other prisoners who would seem a lot more sympathetic.  That said, I do like imagining a (realistic?) future in which a decision to release Madoff prompts many more federal judges to grant compassionate release to many more federal prisoners.

Prior related post:

February 17, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

As Virginia and other states consider expanding parole, might the federal system do the same in a SECOND STEP Act?

In this 2017 Federal Probation article, titled "Reflecting on Parole's Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System," I imagined various ways modern federal sentencing reform might have been less problematic if some form of parole had been retained in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.  I also noted how the legislation that became the FIRST STEP Act served as a kind of "parole light" while also explaining why I thought reformers "troubled by the punitive policies that the SRA helped usher into the federal system ought to think about talking up the concept of federal parole anew."

This not-so-old-but-already-dated article came to mind as I saw this piece from the New York Times this week under the full headline "‘It Didn’t Work:’ States That Ended Parole for Violent Crimes Are Thinking Again; Virginia, newly dominated by Democrats, may broaden parole for the first time in a generation. Others states are watching."  Here are excerpts:

After Zenas Barnes was convicted of three robberies in the 1990s, he accepted a plea deal that stunned even veteran lawyers for its severity: 150 years in state prison. Mr. Barnes, who was 21 at the time, said that he had not realized when he took the deal that the Virginia Legislature had, only months before, abolished the most common type of parole, meaning that there was a good chance he would die in prison.

Twenty-five years later, the State Legislature, newly dominated by Democrats, is poised to broaden parole for the first time in a generation.  The move would give Mr. Barnes and thousands of other prisoners convicted of violent crimes a chance for parole, which allows inmates to be released early.

Watching closely are lawmakers across the nation, including in California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania.  Like Virginia those states decades ago virtually eliminated discretionary parole, granted by appointed boards on a conditional basis, during an era of surging violent crime and the imposition of progressively harsher punishments.

“We thought we were fighting crime, and it didn’t work,” said David Marsden, a Democratic state senator in Virginia, who has previously introduced bills to restore parole but was blocked by Republican majorities.  “But more recently, we’ve stopped trying to teach lessons and started trying to solve problems.  People are now more likely to believe that people deserve a second chance.”...

Even in Virginia, where Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in November, and which also has a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, the question of expanding parole remains politically perilous.  This month, Democrats shelved a bill that would have restored the possibility of parole for nearly 17,000 inmates — more than half the state’s prison population.  Instead, Democrats have focused on more modest efforts to restore parole to older inmates.

“The prevailing attitude of policymakers is we’ve come to the limit because they don’t want to release violent offenders,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that advocates shorter sentences and other policy changes to the criminal justice system.  There is no significant difference in violent crime rates between states that allow parole and those that do not, according to federal data.  But Mr. Mauer said many people associate parolees with recidivism and violence, and their crimes often garner significant public attention.

Republican lawmakers have warned that restoring parole would make Virginia — which has the fourth lowest violent crime rate of any state — more dangerous.  “When parole is granted, it will result in violent criminals being released into our communities,” said Robert Bell, a Republican member of the House of Delegates.  Mr. Bell added that parole “will force victims of violent crimes and their families to relive the worst day of their lives over and over again.”...

Both chambers of the Virginia Legislature have already approved a bill that would make hundreds of prison inmates eligible for parole because they were convicted by juries that were not informed by courts that defendants were no longer eligible for parole after the practice was abolished in 1995.  Governor Northam has said he will support it.

Mr. Northam has also said he supports a bill that would grant parole eligibility to prisoners who are older than 50, a group that may number in the thousands.  He has not yet said whether he would sign a measure that would restore the possibility of parole to thousands of inmates who have served 20 years or more of their sentences.  Both bills are expected to be passed by both chambers of the Legislature.  The governor has not taken a position on the shelved bill that would have restored the possibility of parole for more than half the state’s prison population.

I think it wise for any parole reform, at the state or federal level, to move forward incrementally.  Given the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment rulings, jurisdictions ought to have general parole mechanism that are available to all young offenders sentenced to very long prison terms.  Likewise, public safety concerns would be minimized if and when parole eligibility is at least initially focused upon defendants imprisoned for long periods for non-violent offenses (especially for first offenses and for offenses without victims).

Notably, the federal prison system likely has many more defendants imprisoned for long periods for non-violent offenses than do state systems because, according to federal prison data, roughly 40% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses and nearly half are serving terms of 10 years or longer.  In other words, I think the federal system would be one in which it would be ideal to develop a new modern (and initially modest) system of parole.

Notably, as reported in this post back in November, at a Senate Judiciary oversight hearing with the head of the federal Bureau of Prisons, Senator Lindsay Graham raised the idea of "reinstituting parole in the federal system."  I am sorry we have not yet seen any follow-up on this idea from Senator Graham or others, but I am encouraged that parole appears to no longer be a dirty word in various criminal justice reform conversations.  And, as the title of this post indicates, I think it would be a great idea to include in any SECOND STEP federal reform proposals to follow up the "parole light" elements in the FIRST STEP Act.

February 16, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Remorse and Judging"

The title of this post is the title of this new book chapter authored by Susan Bandes now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This chapter focuses on the judicial evaluation of remorse.  It is an article of faith that judges can and should evaluate remorse when determining sentence.  Although the dynamics of this evaluation are understudied, the existing literature helps illuminate the assumptions judges employ and the dangers and limitations of those assumptions.  Judges rely on evaluation of demeanor and body language and on allocution, and their interpretations are rife with implicit assumptions and unstated rules about what counts as remorse. 

Many of these assumptions (for example the link between remorse and decreased recidivism and the possibility of assessing remorse from demeanor) lack evidentiary support. These assumptions and implicit rules vary widely from judge to judge.  They often fail to account for the influence of race, ethnicity, gender and social class on the expression and evaluation of remorse.  Moreover, they put a premium on the willingness to plead guilty, and to do so at the earliest possible opportunity.  The chapter draws upon the few existing empirical studies on the topic and identifies areas that require further study.

February 12, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 10, 2020

"The Peter Parker Problem"

Standard_incredibleThe title of this post is the title of this new article authored by W. David Ball now available via SSRN.  Here is the piece's abstract:

Sandy Mayson, in her article "Dangerous Defendants," points out the ways in which pretrial detention violates the parity principle-treating those of like risk alike.  There is no justification for the preventative detention of arrestees that would not also apply to those of a similar risk level at large.  In other words, merely having an arrestee in custody does not logically change our analysis of the risk they present or what we should do with them.

But what if these views are psychological, not actuarial?  What if different decisions about these populations (and the differences in how we view them) are not based in different assessments of risk, but about the psychological heuristics we use to analyze them?  In this paper, I explore the possibility that counterfactuals — the "if only I had" scenarios that create an alternative universe where tragedy is avoided — drive decisionmaking without our being aware of it.  The human tendency to desire certainty and simplicity may help explain why our default seems to be to keep someone locked up, "just in case" — and why this desire is resistant to information and argument.

This Article adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates about whether judicial discretion or actuarial tools should govern pretrial release.  Judicial discretion may be biased towards incapacitation by operating on the "gut level" of psychology — even if these decisions result in suboptimality from a cost-benefit perspective.  It adds an additional perspective to the existing literature on the political economy of headline-grabbing crimes (the "Willie Horton" effect). 

The insights from pretrial release also apply more generally to a host of similar problems, including parole release, executive clemency, diversion programs, and removal of children from potentially abusive parents, and suggest that policymakers and reformers be cognizant of the way in which current criminal justice thinking is short-sighted, overly reactive, and biased towards incapacitation.  By applying theories of the counterfactual proposed by Roese and other behavioral psychologists to regret-minimization problems, the Article provides an explanation for why, even when regulations change, judicial decisions to release may remain low.  It suggests that experimental research specifically targeting judicial counterfactual thinking should take place.

February 10, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

"Lost in Translation: 'Risks,' 'Needs,' and 'Evidence' in Implementing the First Step Act"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Jennifer Skeem and John Monahan.  Here is its abstract:

In this article, we focus on two highly problematic issues in the manner in which the First Step Act of 2018 is being implemented by the Bureau of Prisons: (1) an uncritical separation of “dynamic risks” and “criminogenic needs” and (2) a spurious reliance on “evidence-based” interventions to reduce recidivism risk.  We argue that if the Act is to live up to its promise of being a game-changing development in efforts to reduce crime while simultaneously shrinking mass incarceration, “needs assessment” must be subject to vastly increased empirical attention, variable and causal risk factors must be identified and validly assessed, and interventions to reduce risk must be rigorously evaluated both for their fidelity of implementation and impact on recidivism.  Rather than further proliferating programs that ostensibly reduce risk, we believe that serious consideration should be given to the Bureau of Prisons offering one signature, well-established cognitive-behavioral program that can simultaneously address multiple risk factors for moderate and high-risk prisoners.

February 5, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 03, 2020

"What Would a World Without Prisons Be Like?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this recent piece from The New Yorker.  Of course, the question does not lend itself to an easy answer, and this piece includes a 20+-minute podcast to dig deeper.  Here is how the segment is previewed:

Mass incarceration is now widely regarded as a prejudiced and deeply harmful set of policies.  Bipartisan support exists for some degree of criminal-justice reform, and, in some circles, the idea of prison abolition is also gaining traction.  Kai Wright, the host of the WNYC podcast “The United States of Anxiety,” spoke about the movement with Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor who saw firsthand the damage that prosecution causes, and sujatha baliga, a MacArthur Foundation fellow and a survivor of sexual violence who leads the Restorative Justice Project at the nonprofit Impact Justice.

“Prison abolition doesn’t mean that everybody who’s locked up gets to come home tomorrow,” Butler explains.  Instead, activists envision a gradual process of “decarceration,” and the creation of alternative forms of justice and harm reduction.  “Abolition, to my mind, isn’t just about ending the prisons,” baliga adds. “It’s about ending binary processes which pit us as ‘us, them,’ ‘right, wrong’; somebody has to be lying, somebody’s telling the truth. That is not the way that we get to healing.”

February 3, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Reflecting on the meaning of "life" after Graham and Miller

Eli Hager has an extended new piece (at The Marshall Project and Slate) concerning the legal churn over the application of Miller and Graham.  The full headline of this piece highlights its themes: "What’s the Meaning of “Life” When Sentencing Kids?: The Supreme Court ended automatic life without parole for children. What replaces it remains unclear." I recommend the full piece and here are excerpts: 

How long a sentence would the judge have to hand down for it to feel essentially the same as being sent to prison for life?

States have been wrestling with this question over the past decade in the wake of multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings that automatically sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional, because kids have a unique ability to grow and change and therefore deserve a second chance down the road. That forced courts and legislatures to consider what number of years to hand down instead to the more than 2,000 current prisoners nationwide who were originally sentenced as juveniles to mandatory life without parole....

[Certain] states have determined that locking up a juvenile for 25 years is tantamount to a life sentence. Some have put the number at 40 years. But one Louisiana court ruled that even a 70-year sentence is not equivalent to life in prison. Another in Florida said that having a possible parole date in the year 2352—more than three centuries from now—is still less than an automatic lifetime behind bars.

“It really is a philosophical question,” said Marsha Levick, chief legal officer at the Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group. “These are children who entered prison before having finished high school, who never got a chance to achieve maturity, to have relationships, have a family, a career. Does releasing them at 70 or 80 or 90 years old, when they are geriatric, really give them that second chance at an actual life?”...

It’s hard to estimate how many juveniles are serving long sentences equivalent to life. In most states, no agency is mandated to count how many kids are sent away until they will likely die, though youth advocates in Louisiana, for example, estimate there are more than 200 in that state’s penitentiaries alone.Pennsylvania has made perhaps the most concerted effort to get a large number of prisoners originally sentenced to automatic life without parole re-sentenced and then sent home, following the Supreme Court’s reasoning. More than 200 former juvenile lifers there have been let out in recent years, most to the Philadelphia area.

January 30, 2020 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"Financial Hardship and the Excessive Fines Clause: Assessing the Severity of Property Forfeitures After Timbs"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Beth Colgan and Nicholas McLean now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana — which held that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates against the states the Eighth Amendment’s ban on the imposition of “excessive fines” — it is likely that state and lower federal courts around the nation will be called upon to further develop Excessive Fines Clause doctrine.  The Court’s historical exegesis in its Timbs opinion, as well as aspects of existing Eighth Amendment doctrine, support an analytical framework under which courts would look to the effects of property forfeiture on individuals and their families — in particular, the infliction of financial hardship — when assessing the severity of a forfeiture in the proportionality review context.  In this Essay, we sketch the outlines of a forfeitures jurisprudence that would take into account the ways that property deprivations may restrict employment and educational access, interfere with the ability to meet basic needs (including food, shelter, and medical care), create family and social instability, and impede the ability to satisfy legal obligations.

January 28, 2020 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

"What should criminal justice reform look like in 2020?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Hill commentary authored by Timothy Head, who is the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. Here are excerpts:

Since 2007, more than 30 states have passed reforms to reduce incarceration, recidivism rates, and costs; and these reforms have seen significant results. For example, Texas has saved over $2 billion, reduced recidivism by 25 percent, and seen its lowest crime levels since 1968.  But as more states and federal legislators begin to implement reforms, what should be the top priorities?

Narrow the net of incarceration

Incarceration isn’t the right answer for every crime. Offenders whose crimes are motivated by a mental health or substance abuse issue, for example, could be better served through other rehabilitation efforts.  We need to focus on improving early detection of behavioral health needs, expanding access to mental health resources and substance abuse recovery programs, and not making incarceration the default sentence for everyone.

Create effective rehabilitation programs

A 2019 report found that 58 percent of prison inmates don't complete an education program while in prison, even though employment rates for former inmates increase by an average of 10 percent, on average, after they participate in a college program.  By increasing education opportunities for incarcerated individuals, we give them skills and post-incarceration opportunities.

Because incarceration and recidivism are so closely tied to poverty, educational opportunities are one of the best ways to keep former inmates out of prison.  Other proven rehabilitation programs include Bible-based trauma healing programs, prison work programs, and mental health and substance abuse counseling....

Ensure prompt and fair outcomes for both the accused and the victim.

Nearly half of the over 16,000 people in Michigan’s jails are pretrial detainees awaiting trial.  Effective reforms increase pretrial releases and reserve prison and jail resources for those who represent a flight risk or public safety threat.  Additionally, resources like counseling, legal representation, and compensation for victims of crimes sorely lack in states throughout the country.

January 24, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 09, 2020

"Should Judges Have to Weigh the Price Tag of Sending Someone to Prison?"

The title of this post is the title of this new Mother Jones piece with this subheadline: "A handful of reformist DAs think so. But they’re meeting plenty of resistance."  Here is the start of a long piece (with good links) that merits a full read:

There’s one trial that Buta Biberaj will never forget. Biberaj, a former defense attorney, remembers how Virginia jurors in 2017 requested 132 years of prison for a man who stole car tires.  The jurors may have been unaware that taxpayers could pay more than $25,000 a year to keep someone incarcerated — so by proposing their sentence, they were also suggesting that society fork over $3 million. For tires.

Last week, Biberaj started her term as district attorney in Virginia’s Loudoun County. As part of a wave of progressive candidates that swept district attorney elections in Virginia in November, Biberaj is calling for changes that reformers elsewhere have championed, like ending cash bail and letting marijuana crimes go.  But she’s also touting a proposal that goes a step beyond what most liberal district attorneys have floated: She wants courts to grapple with the financial toll of incarcerating people.

Normally, if someone commits a felony like rape or murder, a prosecutor from a district attorney’s office tells a jury or judge why the victim deserves to see the offender locked away.  Prosecutors are often evaluated by the number of convictions they receive and the types of lengthy sentences they secure, with some touting their toughness to win reelection.

Biberaj, during her 25-plus years as a defense lawyer and more than a decade as a substitute judge, came to believe that the sentencing process is flawed. So now as district attorney, she wants her office to tell juries exactly how expensive it is to send people to prison.  “If we don’t give them all the information, in a certain way we are misleading and lying to the community as to what the cost is,” she said in an interview before the election.

Biberaj is not the first prosecutor to suggest such a policy.  In 2018, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the country’s most famous progressive prosecutors, launched a similar experiment.  Shortly after his election, he instructed his office’s attorneys to tell judges how much recommended prison sentences would cost, noting that a year of unnecessary incarceration in the state rang in at about $42,000—around the salary of a new teacher, police officer, or social worker.  “You may use these comparisons on the record,” he told them. Chesa Boudin, the former public defender elected as district attorney in San Francisco in November, says he plans to implement a similar policy after taking office this week....

But so far, other than Biberaj and Boudin, the idea hasn’t caught on widely.  While more progressives are running, about 80 percent of prosecutors go unopposed in elections, meaning that many tough-on-crime district attorneys maintain their seats.

And some judges don’t want to know how much a prison term will cost. They argue that money has no place in decisions about punishment and justice.  Choosing a sentence, they say, should involve weighing the specific situation and needs of the offender and victim, irrespective of budget. And if elected judges feel pressure to save money for taxpayers, it could skew their opinions, argues Chad Flanders, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law.  “Asking judges to make budgetary decisions in sentencing is just another way of asking them to be politicians,” he wrote in a paper on the subject in 2012.  Some judges in Philadelphia have asked Krasner’s attorneys not to share the cost data with them.

January 9, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

"Attorney General Barr wrong about role of prosecutors. Tough-on-crime stance stunts progress."

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today commentary authored by Ronald Wright.  Ron is a co-author on the Sentencing Law and Policy casebook, so I am professionally inclined to agree with a lot of what he has to say.  But this commentary — which carries a subheadline "Criticism of 'social justice' prosecutors, threat to communities shows DOJ leaders lack vision, understanding to ensure justice system reform" — strikes me as an especially astute and thoughtful response to some of the silliness emerging from DOJ leaders on this issue of late.  Here are extended excerpts:

Across the country, a new wave of prosecutors is working to reverse the damaging effects of decades of over-incarceration, attempting to make progress in the face of criticism from the nation's top law enforcement officials — Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.  Both men have shown a lack of understanding when it comes to prosecutorial reform — Barr in a column written his month in which he criticized "'social justice' DAs" and "'progressive' judges" and another written last month by Rosen that accused prosecutors of "shirking" their duty....

These comments are misleading, incorrect and, more than anything, demonstrate that Barr and Rosen don't understand the modern prosecutor’s job.

The idea that the criminal justice system is not broken appears to stem from an indifference to historical trends and current realities.  Incarceration rates may have begun to tick down, but the United States remains far and away the world's incarceration leader, with 2.2 million people behind bars.  Jails process 10 million admissions every year.  And we spend too much to incarcerate too many — at least $80 billion a year. In this country, spending on the very systems Barr and Rosen claim are working, has outpaced spending on education.

Absent from their vision is how our system punishes the most vulnerable. The median income of adults who end up in the system hovers at less than $20,000 a year for men (and about $5,000 less for women). That's half the average median income of men who never end up in prison. Every day, according to 2018 numbers, we keep about 53,000 children incarcerated in this country. And while a white man has a 1 in 17 chance of being sent to prison, those chances grow to 1 in 6 for Latino men and 1 in 3 for black men. In short, to claim that these systems are not broken shows willful blindness.

Instead of learning from past mistakes, Barr and Rosen continue to call for more of the same. They often credit law enforcement policies of the last few decades with reducing crime — without providing any evidence that mass incarceration works.

Yes, crime rates fell during the same time period that incarceration soared. But the crime drop has many causes. Studies show that tough-on-crime policies had, at best, a “modest” effect on the decline.  Prison growth in the 1990s had a limited impact on crime, but since then the effect mostly disappeared.  It is now clear that states with lower incarceration rates achieved just as much public safety as states with higher rates.  And other countries got better results with far smaller and more humane prison systems.

In sum, our bloated prison systems cost far more than necessary.  And we pay the price not only in tax dollars, but in damage to community trust. The best results for public safety happen when strong communities cooperate with prosecutors and police and other public officials.  In many places, voters have rejected the tough-on-crime mindset. Instead, they put their trust in district attorneys who campaigned to address the imbalances in the system, to correct past instances where the system failed, and to use the discretionary power all district attorneys possess to prosecute fewer people.

Which leads to perhaps their most glaring error. District attorneys that are catching criticism have listened to the voters. Then they pledged to fix the system and are doing exactly what the voters elected them to do.

All too predictably, Barr and Rosen return to the tired old argument that a prosecutor who cares about reform disrespects victims. Reformers are shifting their resources away from thefts and less damaging crimes precisely because they want to put more focus on firearms and violent crimes.  That choice of priorities takes victims seriously.  Moreover, by focusing on diversion instead of prosecution for minor and nonviolent offenses, reform prosecutors can help people address the underlying causes of criminal behavior. That makes today’s crime victims — and their communities — safer in the long run.

Barr and Rosen cast the prosecutor as a tough-on-crime warrior who exercises discretion in a few individual cases, while ignoring larger questions about the health of criminal justice.  Reform-oriented prosecutors were elected to improve criminal justice.  They listen to the lessons of history and the values and hopes of their own communities.  It requires a peculiar sort of deafness to argue for the same old prison-centered strategy that has proven too costly over many decades.

The best prosecutors are not warriors — either the tough-on-crime type or the social justice type.  The best prosecutors are problem solvers.

December 28, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

"Victims' Rights from a Restorative Perspective"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Lara Bazelon and Bruce Green recently posted on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The criminal adjudicatory process is meant in part to help crime victims heal.  But for some crime victims, the process is re-victimizing. For decades, efforts have been made to make the criminal process fairer and more humane for victims.  For example, state and federal laws are now designed to keep victims informed, allow them to be heard at sentencing, and afford them monetary restitution.  But these efforts, while important, have not persuaded crime victims to trust criminal process.  For example, sexual assaults remain grossly under-reported and under-prosecuted.  Less than 1 percent of sexual assault crimes result in a felony conviction.  Even the few victims who do receive their promised retributive outcome are not necessarily healed by the process.

Reform efforts seem to presuppose that victims of crime — or victims of particular crimes such as sexual assault — are essentially the same and have essentially the same need, namely, a need for the offender to be criminally prosecuted and sent to prison to serve the longest sentence the law allows.  However, sexual assault victims are a diverse group — racially, ethnically, socio-economically, and with respect to sexual identity – and they suffer varied harms because sexual assault encompasses a wide realm of misconduct and victim-offender relationships or lack thereof.  Even when victims suffer similar harms and come from similar backgrounds, they often have distinct, though sometimes overlapping, needs and objectives.  Some have no desire to participate in the criminal adjudication process at all.  Some will be re-traumatized by a successful criminal prosecution, even with the implementation of procedural reforms promoted by the victims’ rights movement and others.

Proceeding from the premise that victims are a diverse group with differing needs, we focus on victims who might prefer, and be better served by, a non-adversarial process that is centered on their needs, namely, restorative justice.  However much improved, adversarial adjudication directed at convicting and incarcerating offenders risks re-traumatizing victims rather than promoting healing.  It denies victims any significant control over the process, including control over their own narratives. We explore the value of restorative justice processes as an alternative that, in many criminal cases, may be preferable from victims’ perspective.  We acknowledge that restorative justice processes are rarely employed in sexual assault cases in the United States and that prosecutors may have reasons, independent of victims’ perceived interests, for preferring the adversary process, a criminal conviction and imprisonment.  Further, some victims’ advocates regard restorative justice as particularly inappropriate in the context of sexual assaults. Nonetheless, we suggest that when victims voluntarily choose to engage in a restorative justice process, it may be healing, because it gives victims agency in seeking a reckoning that fits with their particular needs and offers possibilities for addressing and repairing the harm that a criminal prosecution cannot.

December 26, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"An Intellectual History of Mass Incarceration"

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

There is much criticism of America’s sprawling criminal system, but still insufficient understanding of how it has come to inflict its burdens on so many while seemingly accomplishing so little.  This Article asks, as Americans built the carceral state, what were we thinking?  The Article examines the ideas about criminal law that informed legal scholarship, legal pedagogy, and professional discourse during the expansion of criminal legal institutions in the second half of the twentieth century.  In each of these contexts, criminal law was and still is thought to be fundamentally and categorically different from other forms of law in several respects.  For example, criminal law is supposedly unique in its subject matter, uniquely determinate, and uniquely necessary to a society’s wellbeing.  This Article shows how this set of ideas, which I call criminal law exceptionalism, has helped make mass incarceration possible and may now impede efforts to reduce the scope of criminal law.  The aim here is not to denounce all claims that criminal law is distinct from other forms of law, but rather to scrutinize specific claims of exceptionalism in the hopes of better understanding criminal law and its discontents.

December 24, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Drug Policy Alliance releases big new report titled "Rethinking the 'Drug Dealer'"

As detailed in this press release, yesterday "the Drug Policy Alliance released a new report making the case for rethinking the way the United States responds to the 'drug dealer'."  Here is more from the press release that serves as a kind of summary of the full report:

The report demonstrates how the United States’ punitive approach to people who sell or distribute drugs — rooted in stigma, ignorance and fear, rather than evidence — has done nothing to reduce the harms of drug use or improve public safety, while instead creating new problems and compounding those that already exist....

“With a record 70,000 deaths from accidental overdose in 2017, people are understandably searching for solutions, but applying harsh penalties to drug sellers scapegoats people who are more often than not drug users as well, while ignoring the larger issue,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Managing Director of Public Health Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Instead, we should be using the same resources and determination to reduce the actual harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, repair the criminal legal system’s discriminatory response to the drug trade, and increase access to evidence-based treatment and support services that benefit health, public safety and economic opportunity in the long term.”

Among the flaws in the current system, the report highlights the following:

  • Current laws were created on the premise that they would reduce overall supply, and in turn, consumption. In reality, the opposite has occurred. We have increased the number of people incarcerated for selling or distribution offenses by 3000% — from 15,000 in 1980 to 450,000 today — and drugs are more readily available, at significantly lower prices.
  • Nearly half of people who have reported selling drugs also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, supporting the idea that they are selling drugs, to an extent, to support their own dependency.
  • Laws against drug selling are so broadly written that people arrested with drugs for personal use can get charged as “dealers,” even if they were not involved in selling at all.
  • While the criminal legal system purports to focus on high-level sellers, the data show that supply-side criminalization disproportionately impacts the lowest-level people on the supply chain.
  • The current system has a discriminatory impact on communities of color, despite the fact that data suggest white people are slightly more likely than Black or Latinx people to report having sold drugs....

Accordingly, DPA has provided a set of tailored recommendations based on three broad principles:

  • First, to the maximum extent possible, society should deal with drug involvement outside the destructive apparatus of criminalization — and to the extent that the criminal justice system continues to focus on drug selling and distribution, it must do so with a commitment to proportionality and due process.
  • Second, we should focus on reducing the harms of drug distribution (for example, reducing drug market-related violence), rather than attempting to eliminate drug market activity.
  • Third, we must take seriously the criminal justice system’s discriminatory response to the drug trade and work toward reforms that both repair the harm already done while preventing further harm to communities of color and poor communities.  With the report public, DPA aims to expand the current public dialogue around drug reform, to focus on who the people now labeled “drug dealers” in the United States really are and how we, as a society, can respond to them in ways that will keep people and communities safer and healthier.

The full 76-page report can be accessed at this link and a two-page executive summary is available here.

December 18, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 13, 2019

"Incapacitating Errors: Sentencing and the Science of Change"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"Second Looks & Criminal Legislation"

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

This Essay explores the relationship between second look sentencing and retributive theory by focusing on the primary vehicle for authorizing and distributing punishment in most American jurisdictions: criminal legislation.  Looking beyond debates over the import of evolving norms to desert judgments, the Essay argues that the central retributive issue presented by post-conviction judicial sentencing reductions is whether the long-term punishments imposed by criminal courts live up to the proportionality standards of any time period. 

Using the District of Columbia’s criminal statutes as a case study, the Essay explains how three pervasive legislative flaws — statutory overbreadth, mandatory minima, and offense overlap — combine to support (and in some instances require) the imposition of extreme sentences upon actors of comparatively minimal culpability.  The Essay argues that this code-based sentencing reality, when viewed in light of structural forces driving prosecutorial and judicial decisionmaking, provides very strong reasons to doubt the systemic proportionality of the severe punishments meted out in the District, as well as in other jurisdictions that suffer from similar legislative and structural problems.  And it explains why this epistemic uncertainty offers a compelling reason to authorize courts to reevaluate (and in appropriate cases reduce) severe punishments through second look sentencing reform — both in the District of Columbia and beyond.

December 12, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Collateral Consequences Resource Center produces "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records"

I am please to see via this posting that the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has now officially published an important new model law on a topic that I suspect even many criminal justice actors do not realize is a big problem.  Specifically, CCRC has now produced a "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records," and the posting helps explain the background and why this is so timely and valuable:

An advisory group drawn from across the criminal justice system has completed work on a model law that recommends automatic expungement of most arrests and charges that do not result in conviction.  Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center served as reporters for the model law.  It is available in PDF and HTML formats.

“Many people may not realize how even cases that terminate in a person’s favor lead to lost opportunities and discrimination,” says Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the advisors of the model law project.  “Over the years, my legal aid program has seen thousands of cases where non-convictions cost people jobs.”

In proposing broad restrictions on access to and use of non-conviction records, the project aims to contribute to conversations underway in legislatures across the country about how to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Already in 2019, states have enacted more than 130 new laws addressing the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  The group regards its model as the first step in a broader law reform initiative that will address conviction records as well.

Law enforcement officials make over 10 million arrests each year, a substantial percentage of which do not lead to charges or conviction.  Records of these arrests have become widely available as a result of digitized records systems and a new commerce in background screening and data aggregation.  These checks often turn up an “open” arrest or charges without any final disposition, which may seem to an employer or landlord more ominous than a closed case.

Very few states have taken steps to deal with the high percentage of records in repositories and court systems with no final disposition indicated.  Paul McDonnell, Deputy Counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration and a project advisor, noted: “Criminal records that include no final disposition make it appear to the untrained eye that an individual has an open, pending case, which can have serious results for that person. New York has recently made legislative progress in addressing this problem, though more can be done.”

Current state and federal laws restricting access to and use of non-conviction records have limited application and are hard to enforce.  Eligibility criteria tend to be either unclear or restrictive, and petition-based procedures tend to be burdensome, expensive, and intimidating.  In recent years, lawmakers and reform advocates have expressed a growing interest in curbing the widespread dissemination and use of non-convictions, leading some states to simplify and broaden eligibility for relief, reduce procedural and financial barriers to access, and in a handful of states to make relief automatic.

Rep. Mike Weissman, a Colorado State Representative and model law project advisor, noted that Colorado has recently overhauled its laws on criminal records with broad bipartisan support.  “It is heartening to see similar reforms underway in other states, both red and blue, as well.  I commend the practitioners and researchers who helped formulate the model law for illustrating avenues for further progress in reducing collateral consequences.”

The model law would take this wave of criminal record reforms to a new level.  It recommends that expungement be immediate and automatic where all charges are terminated in favor of an accused.  Uncharged arrests should also be automatically expunged after a brief waiting period, as should dismissed or acquitted charges in cases where other charges result in conviction.  Cases that indicate no final disposition should also be expunged, unless there is indication that they are in fact pending.

The model law also recommends that expunged non-conviction records should not be used against a person in a range of criminal justice decisions, including by law enforcement agencies.  It would prohibit commercial providers of criminal background checks from disseminating expunged and dated non-conviction records, and civil decision-makers from considering them....

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center organized this model law project.  An early draft of the model law was discussed at an August 2019 Roundtable conference at the University of Michigan that was supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.  The model law report was supported by Arnold Ventures.

December 11, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 09, 2019

"The Problem of Problem-Solving Courts"

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

The creation of a specialized, “problem-solving” court is a ubiquitous response to the issues that plague our criminal legal system.  The courts promise to address the factors believed to lead to repeated interactions with the system, such as addiction or mental illness, thereby reducing recidivism and saving money.  And they do so effectively — at least according to their many proponents, who celebrate them as an example of a successful “evidence-based,” data-driven reform.  But the actual data on their efficacy is underwhelming, inconclusive, or altogether lacking.  So why do they persist?

This Article seeks to answer that question by scrutinizing the role of judges in creating and sustaining the problem-solving court movement.  It contends problem-solving courts do effectively address a problem — it is just not the one we think.  It argues that these courts revive a sense of purpose and authority for judges in an era marked by diminishing judicial power.  Moreover, it demonstrates that the courts have developed and proliferated relatively free from objective oversight.  Together, these new insights help explain why the problem-solving court model endures.  They also reveal a new problem with the model itself — its entrenchment creates resistance to alternatives that might truly reform the system.

December 9, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 08, 2019

"From Warfare to Welfare: Reconceptualizing Drug Sentencing During the Opioid Crisis"

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

The War on Drugs officially began in 1971 when President Nixon decried drug abuse as “public enemy number one.”  The goal of the war rhetoric was clear — to cast drug abuse and the drug offender as dangerous adversaries of the law-abiding public, requiring military-like tactics to defeat.  Criminal sentencing would come to be the main weapon used in this pressing combat.  In continuation of the war efforts, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was passed under President Reagan, establishing a weight-based, and highly punitive, mandatory minimum sentencing approach to drug offenses that has persisted in some form for the last thirty years.  When the Act passed, crack cocaine was touted as the greatest drug threat, and crack cocaine offenders — the vast majority of whom were Black — were subjected to the harshest mandatory minimum penalties.  Like any war, the consequences of the War on Drugs has had widespread casualties, including (but not limited to) the devastation of many communities, families, and individuals; the increase in racial disparities in punishment; and fiscal catastrophe in penal systems across the country.  What the War on Drugs has not done is eradicate drug abuse in the United States.  And now, nearly fifty years after drugs became our national enemy, we have a new face of drug crime — the opioid addict.

The current Administration has recognized that “[d]rug addiction and opioid abuse are ravaging America.”  However, rather than ramping up punishment for opioid offenders through lengthier drug sentencing, in October 2017 the opioid crisis officially became a Public Health Emergency under federal law.  And while it is largely understood that this was mostly a symbolic statement with little practical effect, the rhetoric is markedly different than it was during the purported crack epidemic of the 1980s. Rather than drug offenders being the enemy, the opioid addict has been cast as the American Everyman, and the opioid addiction problem has become known as the “crisis next door” that “can affect any American, from all-state football captains to stay-at-home mothers.”

Now that the drug emergency is portrayed as destroying wholesome American communities — as opposed to poor, crime-ridden communities of color — the tone has changed from punishment toward treatment and rehabilitation.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has described opioid misuse and addiction as “a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.”  While we are in the midst of this shift in messaging about drug addiction, it is an ideal time for drug sentencing as a whole to be reconceptualized from use as a weapon — designed to destroy — to having a public welfare agenda.  To do this it requires recasting potential drug offenders as community members, rather than enemies.  This change in perspective and approach also necessitates understanding drug crime as undeterred by incarceration.  The tasks must be to decide on a goal of drug sentencing, and to develop multifaceted approaches to address and eradicate the underlying sources of the drug problem.  When this is done, we may find that more appropriate purposes of punishment — rehabilitation and retribution — compel us to think beyond incarceration, and certainly mandatory minimum sentencing laws, as the appropriate punishment type at all.

December 8, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Deputy AG Rosen continues his hypocritical attacks on local prosecutors for "nonenforcement of the law"

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted and criticized this speech delivered by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at the Wake Forest School of Law.  In my post, I noted that the speech emphasizes making the reduction of violent crime a priority and then assailed local DAs for giving less attention to non-violent crimes.  The speech also complained about DAs adopting non-prosecution strategies for certain low-level offenses without addressing the fact that the federal government for a full decade has formally or functionally adopted non-prosecution strategies with respect to state-compliant federal marijuana offenses.  

Well, DAG Rosen is at it again, this time with this new Washington Post piece run under the headline "'Social justice reform' is no justice at all."  Here are excerpts:

Unfortunately, a trend is emerging that could threaten the hard-fought progress in public safety. A small but troubling number of state and local prosecutors are vowing that they will not enforce entire categories of core criminal offenses as part of a misguided experiment in “social justice reform.”

A prosecutor has a vital role: to enforce the law fairly and keep the public safe. These purportedly progressive district attorneys, however, are shirking that duty in favor of unfounded decriminalization policies that they claim are necessary to fix a “broken” system.

The Philadelphia district attorney, for instance, has in effect decriminalized thefts of up to $500.  Boston’s district attorney actually campaigned, before her election last year, with a list of crimes her office would not prosecute — including drug distribution, “larceny under $250,” receiving stolen property, trespassing, malicious destruction of property and resisting arrest.

In San Francisco, the new DA has vowed not to prosecute “quality of life” crimes such as public urination and prostitution. And the new DA in Fairfax County said during his campaign that he wouldn’t prosecute as a felony any larceny below $1,500 (ignoring the state threshold of $500), would not seek cash bail for felonies and would charge unlawful immigrants more leniently than U.S. citizens for the same crimes in order to circumvent the immigration consequences of the crimes.

While the Trump administration is dedicated to enforcing federal criminal law, as shown by the record number of violent crime prosecutions during the past two years, not every state crime is prosecutable as a federal offense. Contrary to the belief that inspires these so-called social justice policies, the “system” is not broken. Just as violent crime rates are near historic lows, national incarceration rates have also fallen 13 percent over the past decade, hitting a 20-year low, according to a 2019 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Those who still believe that certain criminal laws hinder “social justice” should vote for a legislature, not a prosecutor, to address their concerns.  Outright nonenforcement of the law is an affront to the separation of powers.  The legislative branch writes the law. The judicial branch interprets the law. And the executive branch — of which these prosecutors are a part — enforces the law.

Prosecutors have discretion to decide what individual cases to bring and how best to resolve them.  But the categorical refusal to enforce basic laws geared toward public safety goes far beyond prosecutorial discretion, violates the duty to enforce the laws as passed by the legislature and flies in the face of the fundamental concept that no one part of government exercises total control.

Prosecutorial policies that disregard core criminal laws — and the inflammatory rhetoric that often accompanies those practices — also erode respect for the rule of law.  These prosecutors risk demeaning the very institutions they are appointed to lead and fueling mistrust by promoting false narratives about the criminal-justice system and law enforcement.  The prosecutors are essentially flipping the script, casting criminals as victims and police as villains.  This distortion is not only demoralizing to law enforcement but also emboldens hostility toward both the rule of law and those entrusted with enforcing it.

As a general matter, I continue to be intrigued and troubled by an unelected federal prosecutor making proclamations about how elected local prosecutors ought to apply state laws.  Notably, the Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco DAs all clearly articulated their planned prosecutorial policies during their campaigns and they will continue to be directly accountable to local voters.  But DAG Rosen was not elected by anyone and is not really directly accountable to anyone, and his appointed responsibility concerns only the application and enforcement of federal law.

And speaking of federal law, DAG Rosen ought to explain his own work in his own backyard before attacking state and local prosecutors.  Beyond the fact that the federal government has been formally or functionally engaging in "outright nonenforcement" of (state-compliant) federal marijuana offenses, in just Washington DC alone a simple Google search reveals dozens of marijuana offenders advertising in plain sight.  Of course, DAG Rosen is seemingly okay with "categorical refusal to enforce" federal marijuana law in these settings because there are very sound political and practical reasons for federal prosecutors to allocate its limited resources elsewhere.  But, as I commented in the prior post, apparently in the view of DAG Rosen, what is good for the (unelected) federal prosecutors in terms marijuana non-enforcement is no good for the (locally elected) state prosecutors.

Prior related post:

November 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

DVR alert for new documentary, "College Behind Bars"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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