Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A detailed accounting of many steps for everyone to follow-up on the FIRST STEP Act

Mark Holden has this new commentary at The Crime Report headlined "The First Step Act: It’s Only a ‘First Step’."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Signed into law during the closing days of 2018, the bipartisan First Step Act expands rehabilitative programming, modifies some mandatory minimum laws to provide more proportional sentencing, and provides a second chance to people like [Matthew] Charles who’ve worked hard to transform their lives while in prison.... The law is also acting as a catalyst for states that haven’t yet reformed their criminal justice systems.

But as important as the law is, additional steps are needed to improve our criminal justice system.  To bring about transformative change, policymakers at all levels must act.  The private sector, civic organizations and community leaders must also do their part to ensure that the formerly incarcerated can find work, housing and access the tools they need to succeed after being freed....

Congress should apply three of the law’s sentencing changes retroactively, to help people who received overly harsh sentences under outdated policies and pass other front-end reforms that prioritize prison beds for dangerous criminals while addressing low-level, nonviolent offenses through treatment and other programs that better serve this population.

In addition, Congress should codify the Supreme Court ruling that requires prosecutors share all of the information that they have about the alleged crime with the accused at the outset the case.  Lawmakers can also address our over-incarceration epidemic by clarifying criminal intent standards and working to rein in our bloated federal criminal code and regulatory code, under which virtually anyone can be charged with a crime.

The Trump administration can act on its own to reform the executive clemency process to create second chances for people who wouldn’t necessarily qualify for relief under the First Step Act.

States can parallel many of these federal actions by removing barriers for people with criminal records. More “Clean Slate” laws, like the one enacted in Pennsylvania last year, will create second chances for people by unblocking them from jobs, housing, and education.

States could also increase the transparency of their criminal justice systems through more data collection and enhanced due process protections for citizens.  Across the country individuals are incarcerated awaiting trial without considering other factors like the potential for flight risk, or whether the individual poses a threat to public safety, while others are incarcerated due to excessive fees and fines, and technical violations....

Businesses can help transform lives and enable people to contribute to their communities by hiring qualified candidates with criminal records.  I’m proud to work for Koch Industries, which hires people with criminal records and recently signed the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge with the Society for Human Resource Management to end outdated, non-inclusive hiring practices.

Finally, groups like Hudson Link for Higher Education, Safe Streets & Second Chances and The Last Mile can provide incarcerated people with skills and identify obstacles that prevent them from succeeding after their release....

We believe, as Winston Churchill did, in “an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.” We all share a moral imperative to help find and unlock that treasure, to unleash the potential in everyone.

If we all do our part, we can bridge the partisan divide and build on the great foundation provided by the First Step Act. It’s time to take the next steps on criminal justice reform, this year and beyond.

February 19, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Dark Figure of Sexual Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Nicholas Scurich and Richard John now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Empirical studies of sexual offender recidivism have proliferated in recent decades. Virtually all of the studies define recidivism as a new legal charge or conviction for a sexual crime, and these studies tend to find recidivism rates on the order of 5-15% after 5 years and 10-25% after 10+ years.  It is uncontroversial that such a definition of recidivism underestimates the true rate of sexual recidivism because most sexual crime is not reported to legal authorities, the so-called “dark figure of crime.”

To estimate the magnitude of the dark figure of sexual recidivism, this paper uses a probabilistic simulation approach in conjunction with a.) victim self-report survey data about the rate of reporting sexual crime to legal authorities, b.) offender self-report data about the number of victims per offender, and c.) different assumptions about the chances of being convicted of a new sexual offense once it is reported.  Under any configuration of assumptions, the dark figure is substantial, and as a consequence, the disparity between recidivism defined as a new legal charge or conviction for a sex crime and recidivism defined as actually committing a new sexual crime is large.  These findings call into question the utility of recidivism studies that rely exclusively on official crime statistics to define sexual recidivism, and highlight the need for additional, long-term studies that use a variety of different measures to assess whether or not sexual recidivism has occurred.

February 14, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Student SCOTUS preview part two: noticing the parole push in United States v. Haymond

6a00d83451574769e2022ad3c272a1200b-320wiI noted here back in 2017 an interesting opinion in US v. Haymond where a Tenth Circuit panel declared unconstitutional the procedures used for revocation of a sex offender's supervised release.  The Supreme Court also obviously found the case interesting because, as reported here, the Justices in 2018 accepted the petition for certiorari filed by the federal government.  Oral argument is scheduled for two weeks from now, and a SCOTUSblog page on Haymond has links to all the briefing.

As reported in this prior post, I have a great student, Jim McGibbon, who is now in the midst of drafting a series of preview posts on the \Haymond case.  Following up on this introductory post, here is his second post inspired by the briefing in the case:

In 2010, Andre Haymond was convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to thirty-eight months of prison and ten years of supervised release.  In 2015, two years into his supervised release, Haymond's probation officers conducted a surprise search of his apartment and seized a password-protected cellphone.  Finding images of child pornography on the phone, the probation officers alleged Haymond violated his terms of supervised release.  The district court found by a preponderance of the evidence that Haymond had violated 18 U.S.C. § 2252 by possessing child pornography.  Based on this finding, the court revoked Haymond's supervised release and sentenced him to a mandatory five years in prison pursuant to § 3583(k) and an additional five years of supervised release.  On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that § 3583(k) was unconstitutional in part because it unlawfully imposes heightened punishment using a preponderance of the evidence standard based on new conduct which contradicts the requirements of Apprendi and Alleyne.  And though parole was abolished in the federal system 35 years ago, its history and procedures lurk as this case now comes before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court in Morrissey v. Brewer stated that "revocation of parole is not part of a criminal prosecution and thus the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such a proceeding does not apply to parole revocation." Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 480 (1972).  Commenting on the nature of revocation, the Supreme Court theorized that "[r]evocation deprives an individual, not of the absolute liberty to which every citizen is entitled, but only of the conditional liberty properly dependent on observance of special parole restrictions.” Id.  Regarding the right to due process, the Court held that "[w]hether any procedural protections are due depends on the extent to which an individual will be 'condemned to suffer grievous loss.'" Id. at 481.

Morrissey is still good law, as is Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973), which ruled similarly with respect to constitutionally required procedures for revoking probation.  Predictably then, the government briefing in US v. Haymond relies heavily on these cases, as Morrissey is mentioned 21 times and Gagnon is mentioned 14 times in its main brief. Concomitantly, the government’s brief cites to "parole" a whopping 60 times in hopes that the current Court finds that a person on supervised release is afforded only the same procedural protections as a parolee or a probationer as the Burger Court found in Morrissey and Gagnon.  As the government would have it, Morrissey and Gagnon control because Andre Haymond while on supervised release has "only "conditional liberty" and "individuals in respondent’s position are differently situated from those who can claim the full extent of the constitutional protections against a deprivation of their absolute liberty."  Brief of US at 38.  In contrast, Haymond's brief contains only five references to Morrissey.  He argues, unsurprisingly, Morrissey does not apply. 

There are reasons to believe the Court will not automatically find that the procedural protections due a person on supervised release are in lock step with the procedural protection due a person on parole.  Morrissey can be distinguished due to differences between the realities of traditional parole release and parole revocation and the realities of federal supervised release and its revocation.  As Haymond's brief stresses, in this case Congress through section 3583(k) required a new five-year mandatory prison sentence upon a particular finding as the basis for supervised release revocation.  Traditional parole processes included considerable discretion, and "parole revocation penalties could not exceed reimprisonment for the remainder of the original sentence."  Brief for Respondent at 26.  Moreover, continues Haymond, supervised release is not a form of "conditional liberty” because any “defendant who began a term of supervised release completed his term of imprisonment and there was no pending term that he could resume serving (as in the case of parole) or being serving (as in the case of probation)." Brief for Respondent at 27-28.

This case could be decided on whether the discretionary parole system of the past and the mandatory supervised release system of the present are similar enough to apply Morrissey v. Brewer in Haymond's case.  However, if the Court extends Morrissey v. Brewer to be applicable to the revocation of supervised release, then Haymond was not due "the full panoply of rights" and the application of § 3583(k) is probably constitutional — although the Court could still then find that the § 3583(k)'s distinctive mandatory five-year prison sentence is a "grievous loss" for a defendant that justifies greater procedural protections under the Due Process Clause of Fifth Amendment.  Or, if the Court declines to extend Morrissey v. Brewer to the revocation of supervised release, then perhaps the Court will look to the Sixth Amendment to find that jury trial rights are implicated and applicable under the Apprendi and Blakely and Alleyne line of cases.

This case is of interest not only because of its substantive issues, but also because it will present the first major opportunity for new Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to weigh in on Apprendi and its progeny.  Justice Gorsuch replaced an Apprendi progenitor in Justice Scalia, while Justice Kavanaugh replaced an Apprendi objector in Justice Kennedy.  The next post will explore what they and other Justices might have to say in this case.

Prior related posts:

February 12, 2019 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 02, 2019

"Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons"

Robinson-English-Cover-364x586The title of this post is the title of this timely new book of essays edited by Gerard Robinson and Elizabeth English Smith. Here is the publisher's description of the text:

Almost 650,000 men and women, approximately the size of the city of Memphis, TN, return home from prison every year. Oftentimes with some pocket change and a bus ticket, they reenter society and struggle to find work, housing, a supportive social network.  Economic barriers, the stigma of a felony conviction, and mental health and addiction challenges make reentry a bleak picture, leading some to return to a life of crime. A Department of Justice study of 404,638 inmates in 30 states released in 2005, for example, identified that 68 percent were rearrested within 3 years and 77 percent within 5 years of release.

Education and workforce readiness programs must be central components in better preparing individuals to successfully reenter society — and stay out of prison.  This book compiles chapters written by individuals on the right and the left of the political spectrum, and within and outside the fields of prison education and reentry that address this need for reform.  Chapters feature the voices of prominent national figures pushing for reform, current and former students who have benefitted from an education program while in prison, those teaching or managing educational programs within prison, and researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy influencers.

This page over at AEI provides this additional accounting of the book:

Prisoner rehabilitation through postsecondary education and workforce readiness programming is one of the most contested criminal justice policies today.  At the center of this national debate about crime and punishment are 230-year-old questions about the role prisons should play in a democratic society.  Are our prisons designed for corporal punishment, human improvement, or a combination thereof?  Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the United States government has provided conflicting answers to the American public.  After a number of postsecondary college programs closed following the passage of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, coupled with the slow growth of adult basic, secondary, and CTE courses, efforts to rehabilitate prisoners have taken a front seat in criminal justice reform debates today. Local, state and federal support for these programs has grown, as has the national prominence of corporate and philanthropic efforts to provide programming to people inside of prison and those who have just re-entered society.

Education for Liberation addresses how to reform our criminal justice system by better preparing individuals to successfully re-enter society upon their release from prison.  This volume complies chapters written by experts working in academia, policy, correctional agencies, and the private sector to address ideological debates as well as challenges and opportunities associated with providing an education to incarcerated adults.

February 2, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

US Sentencing Commission releases new report titled "Revocations Among Federal Offenders"

Research reports are coming so fast and furious from the US Sentencing Commission, it seems that all I have time for on a busy Thursday is to blog about yet another notable USSC report. Yesterday, as flagged in this post, the new USSC report was on economics crimes; today, the USSC released this 41-page report titled "Revocations Among Federal Offenders." This USSC webpage provides this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

Summary

This publication explores a subset of the Commission’s criminal history rules—those regarding the revocation of terms of probation, parole, supervised release, special parole, and mandatory release.  These rules affect an offender’s criminal history score and Criminal History Category.  This report analyzes the nature and prevalence of revocations, and explores the impact of revocations upon safety valve relief and the career offender guideline.

Key Findings

The key findings of the Commission’s study of revocations are that:

  • Only a minority of offenders (35.0%) with criminal history points under the federal sentencing guidelines had at least one scored conviction with a revocation. Most often such offenders had only one such conviction.

  • For the minority of offenders who did have at least one scored conviction with a revocation, it often increased their criminal history score and resulting Criminal History Category. Among offenders with at least one scored conviction in their criminal history, three-fifths (60.2%) received additional criminal history points, and just under a third (30.9%) received an increase in Criminal History Category. For those offenders who received an increase into a higher Criminal History Category, the impact was generally limited to one Criminal History Category.

  • The rate at which offenders had at least one scored conviction with a revocation varied significantly depending on the type of federal offender. Firearms offenders were the most likely (54.3%) and immigration offenders the least likely (20.9%) to have at least one scored conviction with a revocation. However, the impact of such convictions on their criminal history scores and Criminal History Categories varied much less. Among offenders with at least one such conviction, firearms offenders were the most often (66.2%) and immigration offenders least often (55.9%) to receive additional criminal history points. Furthermore, among offenders who received additional criminal history points, those points resulted in a higher Criminal History Category most often for drug trafficking offenders (53.1%) and least often for firearms offenders (42.9%).

  • The Commission cannot state with certainty how often revocations are based on new crimes versus technical violations because the underlying basis for the revocation could not be determined in 38.7 percent of the cases studied. However, between 38.9 percent and 77.5 percent of the revocations studied were for new crimes, and between 22.5 and 61.1 percent were for technical violations.

  • Prior revocations did not significantly limit offender eligibility for the statutory safety valve, which relieves certain drug trafficking offenders from otherwise applicable statutory mandatory minimum penalties. Of the drug trafficking offenders studied, only 2.3 percent appear to be ineligible for the safety valve based solely on scored convictions with revocations.

  • Prior revocations had a more significant impact on offenders who received the career offender enhancement at §4B1.1. Of the career offenders studied, 10.7 percent qualified for the career offender enhancement in part because of scored convictions with revocations.

January 31, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hiring initiative highlights how private employers can take a next step after FIRST STEP Act

This new CBNC article, headlined "Koch network leads coalition urging businesses to hire former inmates," reports on a notable new initiative that serves as a fitting private-sector follow-up on the FIRST STEP Act and similar state level reforms. Here are the details:

A broad coalition of business groups is pledging to hire workers with criminal backgrounds in the wake of a new federal law aimed at reducing incarcerations.

The movement is spearheaded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who enlisted the support of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the National Restaurant Association and the American Staffing Association have signed on as well. Together, the groups represent businesses that employ roughly 60 percent of the American workforce.

"As business people, we have so many opportunities we aren't even aware of to make our country better and help people improve their lives. This is one of them," Koch said in a statement. "I challenge all of us, as business leaders, to take this important next step together."...

The Koch network has long pushed to overhaul the nation's criminal justice system. The group met with President Donald Trump at the White House last spring on the issue, leveraged relationships with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make a deal. The result was a rare bipartisan bill that Congress passed last year, just days before the government shutdown began.

The First Step Act reduces prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses and gives judges more discretion in setting those sentences. It also eliminates the "three-strikes" rule that imposed a mandatory life sentence for three or more drug convictions. The sentence is now 25 years.

The legislation could also have an impact on the nation's workforce, with roughly 650,000 people released from prison each year. SHRM Chief Executive Johnny Taylor said businesses have a responsibility to ensure former inmates have the opportunity to find a job and stay out of jail.

"Legislation is interesting, but it ultimately only matters if it results in behavioral change," Taylor said. "We can have a narrative around the importance of hiring the formerly incarcerated, and it really can all fall apart if employers -- primarily HR professionals -- don't make it happen."

The new business coalition is committing to using SHRM's guidelines for recruiting and hiring workers with criminal backgrounds. Taylor said it includes best practices for identifying candidates even before they are released from prison and having open discussions about the past....

The move also comes as businesses struggle to fill open jobs amid a shortage of workers. According to government data, there are nearly 6.9 million open positions, but only 6.3 million people who are unemployed. That means even if everyone were hired, business would still come up short....

"If all of us got fully engaged, think of the difference we could make to create second chances, reduce crime and poverty, and improve the quality of life for so many people," Koch said in a statement.

January 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Investing in Futures: Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Postsecondary Education in Prison"

The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.  Here is how the report's introduction begins:

In 2016, more than 626,000 people were released from federal and state prisons and returned to communities across the United States.  Their odds of securing employment, housing, and other necessities after release depended, in part, on opportunities available to them while in prison.  Few such opportunities benefit incarcerated people as much as a postsecondary education — a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma.  Most incarcerated people lack the financial resources to pay for postsecondary schooling.

Thus, the opportunity for them to earn a postsecondary credential while in prison depends in large part on public funding, which has been scarce since the mid-1990s. They face a significant failure of public policy: education is a road toward improving their lives when they leave prison that the current system makes it all but impossible to reach.

It was not always this way.

The Federal Pell Grant Program, authorized in 1972, provided financial support for education for low-income undergraduate students, including people in prison. By the early 1990s, there were more than 770 postsecondary programs in nearly 1,300 prisons.  But in 1994, as policymakers adopted more punitive approaches to the rising crime rate, Congress revoked incarcerated students’ access to Pell Grants with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. 

For a quarter-century, people in prison have lacked a reliable or consistent funding source for postsecondary education.  This absence of funding has translated into fewer educational opportunities for incarcerated people, contributing to the challenges they face on reentry.  Because they often have limited educational attainment before entering prison, formerly incarcerated people face profound challenges in the job market without additional education and skills.  Many remain locked in a cycle of poverty and potential recidivism.  Furthermore, the negative ripple effect through the economy is significant, including fewer skilled workers available to employers and increased incarceration costs for states as a result of high recidivism rates.

This vicious cycle has affected larger numbers of people as U.S. incarceration rates have ballooned: consider that from 1972 to 2010, the prison population increased by 700 percent.  As of this writing, there are more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons.

In recent years, state legislatures and the federal government have taken steps to end mass incarceration and adopt a “smart-on-crime” approach to criminal justice policy that includes decriminalization, sentencing reform, and greater investments in reentry.  Despite this progress, policymakers have not yet moved to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated people.  Doing so must be part of the next phase of criminal justice reform.

January 27, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Timely questions on enduringly important topics via The Crime Report

I have praised and promoted work done over at The Crime Report for many years, and the site remains a daily must-read for criminal justice fans.  And in the last few days, TCR has had two new pieces headlined with two questions that are timely and enduring.  Here are the headlines, links and brief excerpts:

"Can the U.S. Abolish Life Sentences?" (Q&A with Ashley Nellis)

TCR: You write, “Perhaps the most glaring omission of relevant data was the failure of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the well-regarded research arm of the Department of Justice, to document the scale of life imprisonment.” Do you think this omission was on purpose or by accident?  And why?

Nellis: I think it’s not on purpose, there just a lack of resources in the research arms.  There’s also a lack of general interest from the public, so there was no incentive to document the expansion of life sentences. We shouldn’t be surprised that there hasn’t been data on the expansion because it goes along with laws and policies of the 1990s.

[The BJS] is not a political entity, but it seems to be. If you pass legislation at federal level that is bound to increase your incarcerated population… you should probably document the impact of those policies.  If you pass mandatory minimums with the elimination of parole, it seems wise to document how many people go to prison because you did that. Once a lot of the public sees the dramatic growth of life sentences— nearly five-fold increase over time — then they ask “why did nobody notice this before?” The answer is because nobody was recording it.

"Do We Really Need Probation and Parole?" (commentary by Vincent Schiraldi): 

Although “mass supervision” on probation or parole has not yet garnered the attention of “mass incarceration,” its impact is no small matter.  There are 4.5 million people under community supervision in America, twice as many as are incarcerated, a figure that amounts to more than the population in half of all U.S. states.  About four in ten people entering America’s prisons and jails each year are under supervision.  Many of those are incarcerated, not for committing new crimes, but for breaking a wide array of supervision rules.

January 25, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on "Recidivism Among Federal Violent Offenders"

Cover_recidivism-violenceThe US Sentencing Commission has just released its fifth major report in a series reviewing the recidivism rates of federal offenders released back in 2005.  This 74-page report is titled simply "Recidivism Among Federal Violent Offenders.This USSC webpage provides links, and this "Report Summary" and "Key Findings":

Report Summary

Recidivism Among Federal Violent Offenders is the fifth report in a series examining a group of 25,431 federal offenders who were released from federal custody in calendar year 2005. This report analyzes the recidivism rates of federal offenders who engaged in violent criminal activity. The study identifies two groups of violent offenders:

  • "Violent instant offenders" who engaged in violent criminal conduct as part of their instant federal offense; and 
  • "Violent prior offenders" who were not categorized as violent offenders based on their instant federal offense, but who had been arrested for a violent offense in their past.

Taken together, these 10,004 “violent offenders” are analyzed in comparison to the remaining 15,427 “non-violent offenders” released from federal custody in calendar year 2005.  (Published January 24, 2019)

Key Findings

Consistent with the Commission’s previous research, this report shows that offenders who engaged in violent criminal activity — whether during the instant federal offense or as part of prior criminal conduct — generally recidivated at a higher rate, more quickly, and for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders.

Key findings of the Commission’s study of recidivism among violent offenders are: 

  • A substantial number of the 25,431 U.S. offenders released in calendar year 2005 — 39.3 percent — engaged in violent criminal activity as part of their instant federal offense or prior criminal conduct.

  • Violent offenders recidivated at a higher rate than non-violent offenders.  Over 60 percent (63.8%) of violent offenders recidivated by being rearrested for a new crime or for a violation of supervision conditions.  This compares to less than 40 percent (39.8%) of non-violent offenders who were rearrested during the follow-up period.

  • Violent offenders recidivated more quickly than non-violent offenders.  Of those violent offenders who recidivated, the median time from release to the first recidivism event was 18 months.  Comparatively, the median time from release to the first recidivism event for non-violent offenders was 24 months.

  • Violent offenders recidivated for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders. Over one-fourth (28.4%) of the violent offenders who recidivated had assault as their most serious new charge, followed by public order crimes (15.6%) and drug trafficking (11.1%).  Of the non-violent offenders who recidivated, public order crimes were the most common new charge (20.9%), followed by assault (17.9%) and drug trafficking (12.0%).

  • Violent offenders have higher recidivism rates than non-violent offenders in every Criminal History Category, however, the difference in recidivism rates between violent and non-violent offenders is most pronounced in the lower Criminal History Categories and among offenders designated as career offenders or armed career criminals.

  • Recidivism rates for violent offenders in every age group at the time of release from custody were higher than the rates for non-violent offenders.  Violent offenders recidivated at twice the rate of non-violent offenders among those released after age 40.

  • Analyzed separately, violent instant offenders and violent prior offenders both recidivated at a higher rate and for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders.

January 24, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Parole and probation reforms now the focus for powerful players

A couple of days ago, Amy Solomon of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Jake Horowitz of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project together penned this notable Hill commentary headlined "US needs bold reforms to transform probation and parole." Here are excerpts:

The scale of American incarceration has been in the news recently, with growing bipartisan agreement that this challenge needs to be addressed. Yet a related issue continues to operate below the radar: The number of people on probation or parole supervision in the United States, which has tripled in the past three decades.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, this rapid growth in supervision can serve to increase jail and prison populations — an outcome that should concern policymakers and taxpayers alike. While about half of the nearly 4.5 million people on probation or parole will successfully complete their sentences, onerous supervision requirements can become a tripwire, resulting in incarceration. In 2016, for example, 350,000 people exited supervision by entering a jail or prison — often for violating rules such as failing a drug test or missing a required meeting, rather than for a new criminal offense.

In an effort to transform community supervision and shift the focus from punishing failure to promoting success, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts recently announced an initiative to work with leading experts on community supervision policy, practitioners at the state and local levels, and advocates and stakeholders such as victims’ family members, to adopt evidence-backed reforms.

Over the past two decades, research has shown that current probation and parole practices often deliver less-than-optimal results. We know, for example, that supervision with a large number of conditions can interfere with an individual’s progress of reintegrating into the community. Some jurisdictions have responded to this research. Since the community supervision population reached its peak in 2007, both the crime rate and the rate of community supervision have gone down in 37 states. Texas and South Carolina, among other states, have had declines in crime and supervision of 20 percent or more.

Yet despite the growing body of evidence that supervision can be counterproductive, too many jurisdictions continue to emphasize surveillance and impose standard, one-size-fits-all rules, rather than utilizing an integrated approach with treatment and conditions tailored to the individual. These rules include frequent in-person reporting requirements, which often conflict with job or family responsibilities, and costly fines and fees that disproportionately affect poor people, impeding their ability to rebuild their lives....

The good news is that many states have adopted policy changes aimed at shrinking the number of people on supervision, reducing revocations for technical violations, and investing in community-based treatment. But there’s a long way to go, and we must help states and supervision agencies adopt even bolder reforms.

A new report by our two organizations shows that a smaller correctional footprint and less crime can go hand-in-hand. Supervision for the 21st century will require that probation and parole agencies boost the public safety value of community corrections. That means addressing areas that support reintegration such as strengthening family ties and connections to the community, improving workforce development, and increasing access to drug treatment, as well as repairing the harm inflicted on victims.

On theme, today come the news that a group of celebrities and business leaders have formed a new organization, the REFORM Alliance, to work on these issues. This NBC News piece, headlined "Meek Mill, Jay-Z headline alliance to reform U.S. parole, probation laws," provides these details:

Sports, entertainment and business leaders announced the launch of an organization aimed at reforming the United States’ criminal justice system. Meek Mill and Jay-Z are among the group of leaders who pledged approximately $50 million to create the Reform Alliance.  Its mission is to drastically reduce the number of people living under unjust parole and probation sentences, “while keeping communities safe by changing laws and public opinion.”

Other founding partners include Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin; Kraft CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai; Vista Equity Partners founder Robert F. Smith; Galaxy Digital founder Michael E. Novogratz; and Third Point LLC founder Daniel S. Loeb. CNN host and activist Van Jones will serve as CEO.

In an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Mill said he hopes the Reform Alliance will shed light on the issues within the criminal justice system. “This is not us going against the system, this is us trying to fix the system,” the rapper said. “These problems affect America, they affect families, they affect taxpayers. ... I hope we bring real change to help fix the problem.”

January 23, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"Top Trends in State Criminal Justice Reform, 2018"

The title of this post is the title of this two-page briefing paper authored by Nicole Porter for The Sentencing Project which highlights significant criminal justice policy changes at the state level in 2018. Here is how the document gets started:

The United States is a world leader in incarceration rates and keeps nearly 7 million persons under criminal justice supervision. More than 2.2 million are in prison or jail, while 4.6 million are monitored in the community on probation or parole. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, have produced the nation’s high rate of incarceration. Scaling back incarceration will require changing policy and practice to reduce prison populations, intentionally address racial disparity, and eliminate barriers to reentry. In recent years a number of states have enacted reforms designed to reduce the scale of incarceration and impact of the collateral consequences of a felony conviction. This briefing paper describes key reforms undertaken in 2018.

Notably, this short document makes no mention of state level marijuana reforms, even though many are motivated, at least in part, by interest in addressing racial disparities and eliminating barriers to reentry. This reinforces my long-standing view that there is a tangible disconnect between criminal justice reform movements and marijuana reform movements.

January 16, 2019 in Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018"

Cover-Fair-Chance-Reform-2018The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center to document the laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record. Here is the report's executive summary:

* In 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia produced 56 separate laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and elsewhere.  Many of these new laws enacted more than one type of reform.  This prolific legislative “fair chance” track record, the high point of a six-year trend, reflects the lively on-going national conversation about how best to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with a criminal record.

* As in past years, approaches to restoring rights varied widely from state to state, both with respect to the type of relief, as well as the specifics of who is eligible, how relief is delivered, and the effect of relief.  Despite a growing consensus about the need for policy change to alleviate collateral consequences, little empirical research has been done to establish best practices, or what works best to promote reintegration.

* The most promising legislative development recognizes the key role occupational licensing plays in the process of reintegration, and it was this area that showed the greatest uniformity of approach.  Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.

* The most consequential single new law was a Florida ballot initiative to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction, which captured headlines across the country when it passed with nearly 65% of voters in favor.  Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.

* The largest number of new laws — 27 statutes in 19 states — expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures.  A significant number of states addressed record clearing for non-conviction records (including diversions), for marijuana or other decriminalized offenses, for juveniles, and for human trafficking victims.

* For the first time, the disadvantages of a separate petition-based relief system were incorporated into legislative discussions.  Four states established automated or systemic record-sealing mechanisms aimed at eliminating a “second chance gap” which occurs when a separate civil action must be filed.  Pennsylvania’s “clean slate” law is the most ambitious experiment in automation to date.  Other states sought to incorporate relief directly into the criminal case, avoiding the Pennsylvania law’s technological challenges.

* Three additional states acted to prohibit public employers from inquiring about criminal history during the initial stages of the hiring process, Washington by statute, and Michigan and Kansas by executive order.  Washington extended the prohibition to private employers as well.  A total of 33 states and the District of Columbia now have so-called “ban-the-box” laws, and 11 states extend the ban to private employers.

* Four states expanded eligibility for judicial certificates of relief. Colorado’s “order of collateral relief” is now the most extensive certificate law in the nation, available for almost all crimes as early as sentencing, and effective to bar consideration of conviction in public employment and licensing. Arizona, California, and North Carolina made more modest changes to facilitate access to this judicial “forgiving” relief.

* The District of Columbia established a clemency board to recommend to the President applications for pardon and commutation by D.C. Code offenders. Governors in California and New York used their pardon power to spare dozens of non-citizens from deportation, and California also streamlined its pardon process and made it more transparent.  Moving in the other direction, Nebraska authorized sealing of pardoned convictions, and Maine made both pardon applications and pardon grants confidential.

* The legal landscape at the end of 2018 suggests that states are experimenting with a more nuanced blending of philosophical approaches to dealing with the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  These approaches include forgiving people’s past crimes (through pardon or judicial dispensation), forgetting them (through record-sealing or expungement), or forgoing creating a record in the first place (through diversionary dispositions).  While sealing and expungement remain the most popular forms of remedy, there seems to be both popular and institutional resistance to limiting what the public may see respecting the record of serious offenses, and a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms that limit what the public may do with such a record, along with standards to guide administrative decision-making.

January 10, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Spotlighting how FIRST STEP Act implementation challenges and uncertainty has already begun

A week ago the FIRST STEP Act was signed into law, and my first post celebrating this achievement stressed the challenging and critical work of implementing the law well.  Today, this new Washington Examiner piece, headlined "Prisoners due for release under First Step Act stuck in limbo," spotlights that implementation difficulties have already begun.  Here are excerpts:

President Trump shortened the sentences of thousands of prisoners by signing the First Step Act days before Christmas.  But one week later, inmates and their frustrated families say they are afraid the gift won’t be delivered in time to hasten release dates.

Silence from the Federal Bureau of Prisons is creating fear that foot-dragging will eat into reductions mandated by Trump's most significant bipartisan policy achievement.  The new law gives many prisoners an extra seven days off their sentences for each year of good behavior, but it's unclear when authorities will make the calculations.

“Literally, my brother has packed his stuff and is waiting for the call,” said Veda Ajamu, whose brother Robert Shipp, 46, has served 25 years of a drug sentence. Shipp had a November 2019 release date, but Ajamu believes he may be going home immediately under the new law, which would shave off about 175 days, potentially making him eligible for a halfway house or home confinement, which is typical at the very end of sentences. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m feeling anxious. I don’t want to be at the wrong place when he calls,’” said Ajamu, who plans to pick up her brother.

“Some families have loved ones who they know would be home tomorrow,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and a former executive director for the conservative Republican Study Committee. “People are very concerned about when this is going to get done. Congress has passed this. It's in effect."

Advocates estimate that 4,000 federal prisoners will be released almost immediately under the good-time expansion. A smaller number can petition courts for old crack cocaine sentences to be reduced.

For Craig Steven Houston, 48, the good-behavior change alone could mean 210 days off a 30-year crack cocaine sentence. He had an August release date, but the law means he could get out in just 22 days, on Jan. 19., according to his family. “We want to be prepared and know what's going on,” said Steve Henderson, who was raised with Houston and considers him a brother.

Concerned families are calling the Bureau of Prisons’ Designations and Sentence Computation Center, which calculates sentences. But some say calls haven’t been answered. “When you have an infraction in prison, when they take the time away from you, they calculate it immediately... the next day it is gone,” Henderson said. “You have people across the country who are supposed to be home. All of a sudden DSCC isn't answering their phones.”

It’s unclear what effect the ongoing partial government shutdown is having. Bureau of Prisons spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for clarification this week. Part of the delay may be explained by lack of implementation guidance. "We are currently reviewing the new legislation to determine implementation guidance for BOP and other DOJ components," said Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle. Hornbuckle noted that more than 80 percent of the department workforce is working through the government shutdown, which began hours after Trump signed the First Step Act.

December 28, 2018 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Spotlighting the enduring challenges posed by risk-assessment mechanisms built into FIRST STEP Act

LawProf Brandon Garrett has this important new Slate commentary headlined "The Prison Reform Bill’s Implementation Will Be Tricky; Here’s how to ensure it’s a success." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

The First Step Act, the federal prison reform bill that President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday, represents a bipartisan and major effort at making the criminal justice system fairer.  This step will only be a baby step, however, if the engine that drives the entire piece of legislation — risk assessments of federal prisoners’ likelihood to reoffend — is not used carefully and with sound scientific and public oversight.

The statute ... allows federal prisoners, who now number about 180,000, to earn credits toward early release based on rehabilitative programs and their risk of reoffending.  The statute states that an algorithm will be used to score every prisoner as minimum, low, medium, or high risk.  But the legislation does not say how this algorithm will be designed. The Senate’s version of the First Step Act, which refers to “risk” 100 times, calls for a “risk and needs assessment system” to be developed in 210 days, and then made public and administered to every federal prison within the following 180 days.

That may not be nearly enough time to carefully study all of the questions raised by creating such a massive system.  Take as an example the experience in Virginia, which has been hailed as a national model and “leading innovator” by the American Law Institute for using risk assessment to divert low-risk offenders from prison.  Virginia spent several years developing its risk assessment system.  The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission carefully obtained public input, scientific evaluations, and pilot studies, before implementing it statewide.

But in a recent series of studies of the effort to divert prisoners in Virginia, John Monahan, Alexander Jakubow, Anne Metz, and I have found that there is wide variation in how courts and judges apply this risk assessment....  People are not algorithms.  The statute’s fairness will hinge on the discretion that prison officials exercise, informed by the scores from a risk assessment but also by their own judgment.  The First Step Act’s success will similarly depend on resources for real rehabilitative programs.  It calls for evidence-based evaluation of such programs, but that research will also take time.

While using an evidence-informed tool can be better than simply leaving everything to prison officials’ discretion, there needs to be more than buy-in by the decision-makers — the right tools need to be used.  Michelle Alexander and others have raised concerns, for example, with risk assessments that rely on information about prior arrests or neighborhood information that can produce stark racial bias.  The Senate’s version of the act speaks to the potential for bias and asks the comptroller general to conduct a review after two years to identify “unwarranted disparities.”  The act also calls for an independent review body that includes researchers who have studied risk assessment and people who have implemented it.  These are important steps.  Involvement of scientists and the public will be needed to consider whether invidious and potentially unconstitutional discrimination results — otherwise, protracted constitutional litigation challenging these risk assessments will be a foregone conclusion.

Still, there is much that is positive about the bill’s many provisions dealing with risk.  The First Step Act emphasizes not just recidivism but also programs that support rehabilitation.  It is noteworthy that the legislation calls for re-evaluation of prisoners each year so that risk scores are not set in stone. All prisoners are able to reduce their classification.  This should be taken seriously.  The risk of any person may decline dramatically over time simply as a matter of age, as the U.S. Sentencing Commission documented in a study last year.

The statute also makes the attorney general the risk assessor in chief — with input from the independent scientific reviewers — of the risk assessment used on 180,000 prisoners each year.  That scientific input is critical, and it should be solicited from the broader scientific community.  It’s also worth noting that the Department of Justice has recently shut down key science advisory groups; this law hopefully takes an important first step toward bringing science back in.

December 27, 2018 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Prez Trump signs historic (though modest) FIRST STEP Act into law ... and now comes the critical work of implementing it well!!

President Donald J. Trump officially signed the FIRST STEP Act into law today, and I am so very excited that a significant piece of sentencing and prison reform finally became law after years and years and years of talk and effort by so many.  I wish the reform was even more significant, especially on the sentencing side, but something is better than nothing and but for a modest reform to crack sentencing terms, we really have had nothing positive coming from Congress on the sentencing side in more than 20+ years.

The White House has this extended "fact sheet" about the FIRST STEP Act under the heading "President Donald J. Trump Secures Landmark Legislation to Make Our Federal Justice System Fairer and Our Communities Safer."  Here is an excerpt:

CREATING SAFER COMMUNITIES AND A FAIRER FEDERAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: The First Step Act will make our Federal justice system fairer and our communities safer.

  • The First Step Act will help prepare inmates to successfully rejoin society and enact commonsense sentencing reforms to make our justice system fairer for all Americans.
  • Among many reforms, the First Step Act will:
    • Promote prisoner participation in vocational training, educational coursework, or faith-based programs by allowing prisoners to earn time credits for pre-release custody.
    • Expand prison employment program opportunities.
    • Enact fair, commonsense reforms to mandatory minimums.
    • Eliminate the three-strike mandatory life sentencing provisions.
    • Give certain offenders the ability to petition the courts for a review of their sentences.

As the title of this post highlights, I am viewing the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act only as completing stage 1 of achieving significant federal criminal justice reform. Stage 2 involves the critical work of implementation, and so many of the large and small elements of the the FIRST STEP Act involve important and challenging implementation issues. Most obviously, the risk assessment system for prisoner programming and time credits needs to be developed and deployed in a fair and effective way and that is easier said than done. And the instruction that federal prisoners be house, whenever possible, within 500 miles of their homes is easier to describe than to ensure. And the new authority created by the FIRST STEP Act for courts to consider directly so-called "compassionate release" motions for sentence reductions presents a profound opportunity and a profound challenge for taking a second look at extreme (and extremely problematic) sentences.

I could go on and on, but I will save FIRST STEP Act "issue spotting" for the days and weeks ahead (I have created a new category archive for this very purpose).  For now I will just savor needed legal change and congratulate all those on the front lines who worked so very hard to help make this day possible.  Wow!

December 21, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"California transformed its justice system. But now crime is up, and critics want rollbacks"

La-1545291924-l4bgfb9fvx-snap-imageThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Los Angeles Times article that merits a read in full. Here is the first part of the piece:

Over the last decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population. The state has shortened sentences and diverted some offenders to the counties for incarceration and supervision, transforming California’s criminal justice system into what supporters hope will become a humane model around the country.

But amid the changes, crime has increased in recent years, sparking debate about the causes and giving ammunition to those leading a new effort to roll back some of the reforms.

An analysis by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times found that California’s crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, the years that immediately followed two major statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of people in prison. Those jumps were mainly driven by increases in property crimes, particularly thefts from motor vehicles.

After decades of mirroring national downward trends in violent crime, California saw a 12% increase from 2014 to 2017, while the violent crime rate in the other 49 states together increased only 3%, the analysis showed. In 2014, California voters approved a ballot measure that reduced sentences for many low-level drug and property crimes. California’s property crime rate fell slightly in the last two years, but remains 2% higher than it was in 2014. By contrast, the rate of property crimes in the rest of the nation has dropped by 10% over the same period.

There is no simple explanation. Crime trends vary dramatically from county to county. Thirty-one of the state’s 58 counties saw an increase in violent crime last year, while 22 saw an increase in property crimes. The rest stayed flat or declined. What single factor can explain the fact that violent crime went up 6% last year in Los Angeles but fell 6% in Sacramento?

There also have been large differences in the way counties spent the billions in state money allocated to implement the new measures. Some focused on building jails, others on recruiting and deploying police, and still others experimented with collaborative courts and reentry programs.

La-1545291841-6s9kam0io9-snap-image

To complicate matters, specific crimes come with their own caveats. Reports of rape have increased nationally since 2013, for example, but sexual assaults have traditionally been underreported, and part of the increase stems from the FBI’s decision to broaden its definition of rape in 2013. (The Marshall Project and Times data analysis excluded rape.) Reports of aggravated assaults in California also have increased, but part of that increase is likely due to underreporting from 2005 to 2012 by the Los Angeles Police Department.

California’s criminal reform revolution began in earnest in 2011 after the U.S. Supreme Court approved a cap on the number of inmates in prison. Lawmakers responded by passing Assembly Bill 109, known as realignment, which lowered the prison population by shifting the burden to the counties to house and supervise thousands of inmates convicted of crimes that the law categorized as nonviolent and nonserious.

Three years later, California voters approved Proposition 47, which turned drug use and most theft convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2016, voters overhauled the state parole system by backing Proposition 57, which gave thousands of inmates the chance to earn an earlier release from prison.

The undeniable result of all these measures is that people are on the street today who would have been locked up in previous years. Critics of the reforms argue that they have created a permissive climate that makes policing harder and weakens the deterrent effect of a possible prison sentence.

“There’s no accountability,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove). “People know they can get away with things. That’s contributed to it. That’s really been a big source of frustration. No one’s going to jail anymore.” Cooper, a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s captain, has been a leading voice in a coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement groups pushing back.

A statewide initiative that will appear on the 2020 ballot would reverse some provisions of Proposition 47, toughen supervision of parolees and disqualify some prisoners from early release.

Backers of the proposed rollback argue that the state’s drug courts, intended as an alternative to criminal courts, are seeing fewer people because prosecutors can no longer force someone into treatment with the threat of a felony. (Some counties, including San Diego, have reported decreases in drug court participation since Proposition 47, but no statewide figures are available.) Those who favor toughening the law also claim counties are struggling to supervise offenders with violent criminal records.

Supporters of the prison downsizing measures dispute any link between the new laws and an increase in crime. They argue that using 2014 as a baseline — the year with the fewest crimes reported in the state since the 1960s — unfairly skews any analysis. “To look at it from a year-to-year basis is very short-sighted,” said Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School who helped write Proposition 47. “We really have had a sustained downward trend over the past decade or two.” He said it’s unlikely any single factor led to an increase in crime, but rather a combination of issues, such as poverty and unemployment, in different counties throughout the state.

Californians for Safety and Justice, a group that co-authored Proposition 47, points out that several states saw larger increases in violent crime than California from 2016 to 2017. (An analysis by The Times and the Marshall Project found 20 states with larger increases in violent crime rates.) They note that none of the recent laws changed penalties for violent crimes.

In 2013, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that the first major prison downsizing law, realignment, had no effect on violent crime, but did lead to an increase in auto thefts. In 2016, a prestigious social science journal reached a similar conclusion. Under realignment, people convicted of auto theft, a nonviolent felony, usually serve shorter sentences in their local jails and are released under local supervision.

Two studies published this summer — one by a UC Irvine criminologist and another by the Public Policy Institute of California —found no link between Proposition 47 and increases in violent crime. Both noted a possible link between the initiative and increases in larceny, particularly thefts from motor vehicles, although the Irvine study found those links too tenuous to conclude Proposition 47 was to blame.

After national crime data for 2017 released this fall showed California departed from the national trend — violent crime in California ticked up slightly while it fell slightly across the 49 other states taken together — researchers said they planned to revisit the question of a link between Proposition 47 and violent crime. California’s robbery rate jumped 14% from 2014 to 2017; the rest of the country saw a 7% drop. “It is troubling and deserves more attention,” said Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of corrections at the Public Policy Institute of California.

In addition to praising the work of this article, I wanted to flag the possibility that the stories of crime in California might get even more complicated and unclear if and when we get complete data for 2018. The recent Brennan Center report indicates crime is down in 2018 in some major California cities and that murder is down a lot in all big California cities. If these numbers hold true throughout the state reform advocates will have some important data to push back on the claim that reform rollbacks are needed to enhance public safety.

UPDATE The day after running this general story about an uptick in California crime, the Los Angeles Times followed up with this more encouraging local tale under the headline "Crime once plagued San Joaquin County, but now its jail has empty beds. Here’s what it did right."  The unsurprising take-away is that how and how well a jurisdiction implements criminal justice reform impacts how well criminal justice reform works.

December 20, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

After rejection of contentious proposed amendments, FIRST STEP Act passed by Senate by vote of 87 to 12!!!!

In this post back in August I wondered "Could enhanced FIRST STEP Act get more than 90 votes in the Senate if even brought up for a vote?".  Well, it seems I was off by three votes, as tonight the the US Senate voted 87 to 12 to enact the FIRST STEP Act.  With a vote in the House scheduled for later this week, this bill should be on Prez Trump's  desk before the end of this week and law before Prez Trump heads down to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays.  This USA Today article, headlined "Senate passes First Step Act with push from criminal justice groups; bill goes to House," provides this account of today's historic developments:

Alex Gudich and the team from #cut50 weren’t taking any votes for granted. They spent Tuesday knocking on the doors of senators and urging them to support a criminal justice reform bill up for a vote, something they didn't know would happen that night.

"We knew that it would be a tough vote for many members on both sides," said Gudich, deputy director for the national advocacy group pushing to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system. "We’re here at a very, very pivotal moment."

In a major step in that effort, the Senate voted 87 to 12 late Tuesday to approve the bipartisan "First Step Act" pushed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mike Lee, R-Utah and Cory Booker, D-N.J. The bill must now go over to the House for a vote. President Donald Trump has supported the measure....

The Senate defeated amendments proposed by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana that would have required the Bureau of Prisons to notify victims before a prisoner is released and tracked former offenders after they're released.

Several advocacy groups, including #cut50, and national civil rights groups, including the National Urban League, have been a part of a massive push to get the legislation passed. “It’s been a long time in raising the awareness of how the system of mass incarceration is so destructive and needs to be fixed and reformed,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “There’s been a lot of groundwork that has been laid over the years.”

The groups have been working on criminal justice reforms for years, including under then-President Barack Obama, but supporters said the effort got a boost earlier this year with the help of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. “We were excited to see a breakthrough this year and a shift," Gudich said.

Gudich called the First Step Act “a compromise bill, but importantly it does not add any new mandatory minimum. There are no sentencing enhancements.” Some advocates, however, have complained the measure doesn’t go far enough. Morial said he would have wanted more provisions to deal with bail reforms and more support for reentry programs, but welcomes the effort. “If we could get a perfect comprehensive bill, we’d do it," he said. “This bill is also the product of some difficult political trade-offs. But it’s better to move this bill with all the things it does than to sit back and wait. We could end waiting another three to four years."

Lawmakers particularly praised the work and input of advocates and civil rights groups. “Formerly incarcerated individuals were incredibly important voices in urging the House to get something done meaningful on prison reform,’’ said New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, incoming House Democratic Caucus Chair, a key negotiator. “Nobody is more authoritative on the issue of the victimization that has taken place as a result of over criminalization as a result of the mass incarceration epidemic then those Americans who were directly impacted.”

Indeed, formerly incarcerated people from a host of groups, including #cut50, Prison Fellowship, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, have lobbied Congress to support reforms. Civil and voting rights groups, including the NAACP and the ACLU, have also been key players along with a host of conservative groups. “We as conservatives share common goals,’’ Kevin Roberts, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said during a press conference last week. “We want strong communities and institutions. We want those who have done wrong to be punished and then to seize their own redemption without state interference. Most of all we want safe neighborhoods.”

Morial applauded the passage of the First Step Act, but said more needs to be done. “This is something that we have to work on over time. This bill is a good bill, but this not going to be the last effort at criminal justice reform,’’ he said. “There’s already a lot of movement at the state level… This is a growing movement in America – the idea that we have to fix the system of mass incarceration.”

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

UPDATE: I just say that Prez Trump has already tweeted here about this significant legislative development, saying "This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!"

December 18, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Some of Senator Cotton's suspect claims in his latest case for amendments to the FIRST STEP Act

As noted in an update to this prior post, Senator Tom Cotton has this new National Review commentary making the case for his proposed amendments to the latest version of the FIRST STEP Act under the headline "Fix the First Step Act and Keep Violent Criminals behind Bars."  This commentary closes with a passage that troubled me, especially when I looked up the facts of the case he discusses.  Here is how Senator Cotton concludes (with a few details emphasized by me for further commentary):

So far the debate over First Step has been clouded by euphemism and abstraction, which has prevented the public from understanding what the bill actually does. A concrete example will help clarify the stakes. Richard Crawford is a former NASCAR driver who was convicted in August of trying to force a twelve-year-old girl to have sex with him. Crawford was sentenced to nearly 11 years in federal prison, but the statute he was convicted under does not appear in First Step’s “ineligible prisoners” list.  If the bill passes, he will therefore be eligible for time credits that would reduce his time in prison by up to one-third, or nearly four years.  At the end of his prison sentence he would be moved into pre-release custody or supervised release.  He would essentially be a free man.

Crawford’s sex crime was not obscure, low-level, or “victimless.”  Quite the opposite.  His crime had the potential to shatter a child’s life.  It was punished accordingly by a judge and a jury of his peers.  That is how criminal justice ought to work in America.  Now a group of politicians and activists are in a position to overturn that public judgment with the First Step Act.  Conservatives should resist this revolution.

The last few sentences of this passage initially troubled me because nothing in the FIRST STEP Act serves to "overturn" a jury conviction or even a sentencing term.  Rather, the FSA creates additional incentives, through "time credits," for offenders to engage in recidivism-reducing programs.  I think the FSA is popular because the "public judgment" is that it would generally be better for Crawford to be released in 2025 after having successfully engaged in this programming than to be released in 2028 without having made any effort to better himself.

But even more irksome to me is how Senator Cotton portrays his poster child, Richard Crawford, because it seems a bit much to say he tried "to force a twelve-year-old girl to have sex with him" given that he was convicted based on law enforcement posing as a man soliciting people to have sex with a fictitious 12-year-old.  This article about the case explains:

Crawford was accused of agreeing to pay $50-$75 to have sex with a 12-year-old girl, making arrangements with a man named Mike on Craigslist.  Mike and the 12-year-old girl were fictitious and used by law enforcement to catch Crawford in the act.  He responded to an undercover federal agent via e-mail and text between Feb. 10 and Feb. 28. According to the agent, Crawford texted him, “Love for her to be naked and ready,” and asked for photos of the girl.  Crawford was arrested at a location at which he agreed to meet “Mike” on March 1 by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and was indicted March 30.

Crawford claimed he agreed to the scenario because he didn’t believe it really involved a child.  His defense was detailed in a recent court filing, arguing against a lengthy sentence.  "Mr. Crawford testified that he thought 'Mike,' the person he was corresponding with, was engaging in a fantasy and that he agreed to participate," the filing read. "Mr. Crawford did not believe there would be a minor present; instead, he thought there would be an adult woman, presumably 'Mike's' wife or girlfriend, and that he and this woman would act the roles in 'Mike's' fantasy."

"Mr. Crawford consistently maintained that he had no intent to have sex with a minor, and if a minor had been present, he would not have had sex with the minor.”

A jury rejected Crawford's claims of innocence and convicted him of "attempted enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity."  But to say he tried to force a 12-year-old to have sex seems off since there never was an actual 12-year-old.  Indeed, I think it fair to call Crawford's crime "victimless," though the case really serves as a great indication of how hard it is to place accurate short-hand labels on various crimes (and how easy it is for Senator Cotton to make a crime sound worse than it was is using short-hand labels).  To allow Crawford, who is 60 years old and appears to have no criminal history, the chance to earn "time credits" by completing evidence-based programming to reduce his risk of recidivism seem to me sensible, not scary.  (And, as I understand matters, if a risk assessment procedure were to classify Crawford as "high-risk" he would not in fact get any sentence reductions.)

We will see in the coming days whether Senator Cotton gets his proposed amendments added to the FIRST STEP Act.  But if Richard Crawford is the worst version of Willie Horton that he can conjure up for the coming debate, I am not at all convinced there is any need to carve out still further exceptions to the prison reform provisions that seem well-conceived to try to reduce the recidivism risk of as many federal prisoners as possible.

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

December 17, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Prison Policy Initiative produces "Correctional Control 2018: Incarceration and supervision by state"

National_correctional_control2018The fine folks at the Prison Policy Initiative a few years ago produced this first version of a report that sought to aggregate "data on all of the kinds of correctional control: federal prisons, state prisons, local jails, juvenile incarceration, civil commitment, Indian Country jails, parole and, lastly but importantly, probation."  PPI's latest version of this report, now called "Correctional Control 2018: Incarceration and supervision by state," gets started this way:

The U.S. has a staggering 2.3 million people behind bars, but even this number doesn’t capture the true scale of our correctional system.  For a complete picture of our criminal justice system, it’s more accurate to look at the 6.7 million people under correctional control, which includes not only incarceration but also probation and parole.

The vast majority of people under correctional control are on probation and parole, collectively known as community supervision (or community corrections).  An estimated 4.5 million adults are under community supervision, nearly twice the number of people who are incarcerated in jails and prisons combined. Yet despite the massive number of people under their control, parole and probation have not received nearly as much attention as incarceration.  Only with recent high-profile cases (such as rapper Meek Mill’s probation revocation) has the public begun to recognize the injustices plaguing probation and parole systems, which set people up to fail with long supervision terms, onerous restrictions, and constant scrutiny.  Touted as alternatives to incarceration, these systems often impose conditions that make it difficult for people to succeed, and therefore end up channeling people into prisons and jails.

Understanding correctional control beyond incarceration gives us a more accurate and complete picture of punishment in the United States, showing the expansive reach of our criminal justice system.  This is especially true at the state level, as some of the states that are the least likely to send someone to prison are the most likely to put them under community supervision.  Given that most criminal justice reform will need to happen at the state and local levels, it is crucial for states to assess not only their incarceration rates, but whether their “alternatives” to incarceration are working as intended.

For this report, we compiled data on each state’s various systems of correctional control to help advocates and policymakers prioritize targets for reform.  This report includes data on federal prisons, state prisons, local jails, juvenile confinement, involuntary commitment, Indian Country jails, parole, and probation. We make the data accessible in one nationwide chart and 100 state-specific pie charts.  In this update to our original 2016 report, we pay particular attention to the harms of probation and parole, and discuss how these systems might be reworked into more meaningful alternatives to incarceration.

December 12, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Senate leader Mitch McConnell says in floor speech that he will bring up FIRST STEP Act for a vote!!

Most everything that happens inside the Beltway tends to make me sad and frustrated, but I was feeling especially sad and frustrated by report that the FIRST STEP Act would not even get a vote in the Senate this year.  But, providing a belated Hannukah gift and an early Christmas gift is this exciting news via the Washington Post: "McConnell to bring up criminal-justice bill for a Senate vote."  Here are the details:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system that has proven deeply controversial within the Senate Republican ranks. 

McConnell said in a floor speech Tuesday morning that the Senate will take up the legislation, written by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and several other Democratic and Republican senators, in December, perhaps as early as the end of this week. 

He also warned that because of the decision to add the criminal justice bill to the Senate agenda, “members should now be prepared to work between Christmas and New Year’s.” He urged senators to “work together or prepare for a very, very long month.”

Since I am regularly working — usually grading, researching and blogging — between Christmas and New Year's, I am not at all troubled that Senators will also have to squeeze in a little extra work to earn their final 2018 paychecks.   

This report is certainly something to celebrate among everyone eager to see some — any — positive reforms to our federal criminal justice system.  But, of course, having a bill enacted and signed by the Prez is critical before a full celebration is appropriate. In addition, various reports of various carve outs in order to garner GOP support for various part of the bill suggest that the final legislation could prove especially modest in various particulars.  Still, as I see it, something is always better than nothing, and any version of the FIRST STEP Act is likely to be something.

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

December 11, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, December 03, 2018

The faulty and foul thinking continuing to thwart a vote on the FIRST STEP Act

A new week bring a new round of stories about the status of the debate over the FIRST STEP Act.  For example, this morning's Politico piece, headlined "Trump lays off McConnell as criminal justice reform stalls: Advocates fear the president isn’t fully invested in the fight for the bill," is focused on whether Prez Trump should be trying to do more to get the legislation through Congress.  Given that Prez Trump does not work in Congress, I would rather these days to see stories about whether he will ever make good on all his prior clemency talk, but that it a topic for a coming post.

Of course, I understand why Politico and others are inclined to focus on Prez Trump 's role in this process, but I have long been wondering why nobody is talking about whether Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley would be willing to stall/block any and all votes on judicial nominees — not only now in lame duck, but also in the next Congress — until a Senate floor vote is scheduled on criminal justice reform bills.  As this AP story notes, outgoing GOP Senator Jeff Flake is using his judiciary power to block votes on judges to seek a floor vote on a bill to provide protections for the special counsel.  As a Beltway outsider, I do not see why Senator Grassley — or other big GOP reform supporters on the Judiciary Committee like Mike Lee — are not at least talking up a similar move to try to get Senator McConnell to schedule a vote on the FIRST STEP Act.

Meanwhile, this CNN article discussing the discussion of the FIRST STEP Act among GOP Senators provides this glimpse into the faulty and foul thinking that creates challenges for any and all criminal justice reform efforts:

Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number-two ranking Republican and Democrat respectively, discussed in the Senate gym Thursday morning potential compromises that could get wary Republicans on board. "This is a once in a political lifetime opportunity," Durbin said.

In a separate interview, Cornyn said that addressing some of the concerns of one law enforcement group — the National Sheriffs' Association — would "guarantee" the support of some Republicans. Cornyn, the GOP Whip, said his job was to give McConnell "an accurate count of where the votes are," rather than arm-twisting members into voting for it.  He also noted that "our time is limited" in getting it done.

Many Democrats are in favor of the bill — Durbin, the Democratic whip, said his party's "support for this measure is solid." If the Senate can pass it, the House is expected to easily do so too.

This has left the fight to Republican members of the Senate.  Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, told CNN that there's a generational divide within the party on the issue....  "We had one of the senators in the lunch saying, 'You know how you get no recidivism?  Don't ever let him out of jail.  Zero recidivism!'" added Paul, referring to a closed-door meeting GOP senators held this week.

This contention of "Zero recidivism!" is most obviously faulty because it fails to acknowledge that prisoners can and do commit crimes while in prison, with the most common victims being prison guards and other prisons.  This contention is most obviously foul because it entirely disregards the humanity and social meaning of those persons who become federal prisoners (not to mention all their friends and families).  Fundamental ignorance about prisons and prisoners, along with a easy willingness to dehumanize and disregard the interests of those in our criminal justice system and those who care about those in our criminal justice system, help account for why it can be so very easy for all to many leaders to talk this way when seeking to thwart thoughtful and balanced criminal justice reform efforts.

Of course, though nobody is really serious about making all federal crimes subject to mandatory LWOP terms in the name of recidivism reduction, there is also a telling revelation in this faulty and foul comment imagining permanent imprisonment for everyone.  Opponents of the FIRST STEP Act are fundamentally making the claim that we should fear a bill intended and well-designed to seek to reduce recidivism rates among federal prisoners because the recidivism rates among federal prisoners are currently too high.  

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

December 3, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Lessons for Sentencing Reform and Reentry: A Case Study of Project New Opportunity"

The title of this post is the title of this new Center for Community Alternatives' Justice Strategies report. Here is its executive summary:

This study looks at the development and implementation of Project New Opportunity (PNO).  PNO was created to provide reentry support to people being released from federal prison under President Obama’s Clemency Initiative and the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) 2014 reduction in drug sentencing guidelines.

Through the retroactive application of the guideline reforms, about 6,000 individuals were eligible to be released on November 1, 2016.  Another 1,928 were released though the Clemency Initiative. Yet except for probation supervision and Bureau of Prison (BOP) halfway houses, there were no reentry supports available to these individuals, many of whom had served decades in prison.

The Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) worked with Project Director Malcolm Young to design the PNO project to provide a model of reentry support for people released under these criminal justice reform efforts.  PNO is based on research both about the challenges that accompany the transition from prison to community and the role that formerly incarcerated people can play in helping newly released people make this transition.  Imprisonment leaves scars including post-traumatic stress responses, a lack of familiarity with the routines of daily life, and forms of culture shock as one confronts technological and other changes that have occurred during one’s time in prison.  These adjustment issues contribute to recidivism, which is highest within the first 6 months of release.

The key elements of PNO’s model are: 1) a staffing plan that relies on formerly incarcerated people as Reentry Consultants, and 2) an “inside/outside” connection that introduces incarcerated people to their Reentry Consultant six months prior to their release and continues after release.  The majority of PNO participants cited this pre-release connection with someone who will be there when they get out as the primary benefit of the program.

PNO adds yet another example to the growing body of evidence that shows that sentencing reform, shorter sentences and early release mechanisms are reasonable and humane without jeopardizing public safely.  While PNO was unable to track recidivism of its participants through official data, it was able to follow up through the Reentry Consultants and/or participants themselves.  The information, while informal, is very encouraging: there were no known incidents or reports of rearrests, violations of the terms of probation supervision, or incarceration from the consultants or participants.  This suggests that PNO was able to help people stabilize and avoid new encounters with the criminal justice system in the immediate aftermath of release.

November 28, 2018 in Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Meek Mill continues to shine a light on the need for criminal justice reform

As noted in this post, after being released from prison earlier this year, rapper Meek Mill pledged to use his spotlight to "shine a light" on how America's criminal justice systems treat people of color.  He has made good on that pledge in various ways, including through this recently published New York Times opinion piece with this extended headline: "Meek Mill: Prisoners Need a New Set of Rights; Like many who are now incarcerated, I was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.  I got lucky, but because of dysfunctional, discriminatory rules, most don’t."  Here is an excerpts from this commentary:

Like many who are currently incarcerated, I was the victim of a miscarriage of justice — carried out by an untruthful officer, as determined by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and an unfair judge.

My crime? Popping a wheelie on a motorcycle in Manhattan. Even though the charge was dismissed in a New York City court, a Philadelphia-based judge still deemed my interaction with the police to be a technical violation of my probation — stemming from a 2007 arrest — and sentenced me to two to four years in prison despite the fact that I didn’t commit a crime. The judge also refused my motion for bail, calling me a “danger to the community” and a “flight risk.”

The ordeal cost me my most precious commodity: my freedom. I served five months. With the help of friends and the intervention of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I was released on bail this past April and was able to resume my life.

But I know I’m the exception to the rule — a lucky one. It’s clearer than ever that a disproportionate number of men and women of color are treated unfairly by a broken criminal justice system. The system causes a vicious cycle, feeding upon itself — sons and daughters grow up with their parents in and out of prison, and then become far more likely to become tied up in the arrest-jail-probation cycle. This is bad for families and our society as a whole....

We all need to hold our lawmakers accountable for supporting unfair or inhumane policies and all practices that perpetuate injustice, especially for the blacks and Latinos who fall prey to them most frequently. The reality is African-Americans and Latinos who come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods are assigned public defenders too overburdened to do anything in most cases other than negotiate the most favorable plea deal, regardless of guilt or innocence.

Soon, some friends and I will be announcing a foundation dedicated to achieving real change. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining us and lending your support to solving what is the moral crisis of our time, please visit www.reformnow.com and sign up.

Together, we will demand stronger prison rehabilitation programs, updated probation policies — including shortened probationary periods — an improved bail system and balanced sentencing structures.

It’s a shame that model probationers can be immediately put back behind bars simply for missing curfew, testing positive for marijuana, failing to pay fines on time or, in some cases, not following protocol when changing addresses. Our lawmakers can and should do away with these “technical violations.”

And more broadly, if they’re serious about reducing mass incarceration and unnecessary government surveillance, they should introduce legislation that allows people on probation to earn a reduction in probation time for good behavior so that entire swaths of people aren’t spending the majority of their adult lives on probation as I did.

Prior related posts:

November 27, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Paroling elderly inmates is humane solution to costly mass incarceration"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Hill commentary authored by Marc Schindler. Here are excerpts:

[G]rowth in long prison sentences has done little to improve public safety, with states that have reduced incarceration levels experiencing larger drops in crime than states that continue to incarcerate people at very high rates.  But it has contributed to a rapidly expanding population of incarcerated elderly people, so that our prisons now essentially function as expensive yet inhumane nursing homes.  In 1993, there were 45,000 incarcerated individuals over 50 years old; with the continuous growth, it is estimated that number will reach 400,000 by 2030.

For policymakers to significantly reduce the growing and costly prison population, strategies must include reform to long sentences for violent crimes.  Focusing reforms on reducing incarceration of geriatric people is an effective way to safely reduce the prison population.  Research indicates they are the least likely to pose a risk to public safety; criminal behavior typically peaks at 17 years old and then drops as an individual develops into adulthood.  While many states, such as California, Texas and New York, have expanded geriatric parole eligibility, it is infrequently used.

A naturally-occurring experiment, just a few miles from the nation’s capital, provides a roadmap for this strategy to safely reduce incarceration, create a more humane justice system and save significant taxpayer dollars.  A landmark court ruling — Unger v. Maryland — and the opportunities it created, offer powerful lessons for policymakers and stakeholders in tackling mass incarceration.  The 2012 case, centered on remedying improper jury instructions, applied to a cohort of 235 people sentenced prior to 1981.  In the six years since the decision, 188 people have been released; at release, the average age of the Ungers was 64, and the average term served was 40 years....

In the six years since the decision, we have learned a number of important lessons, the most significant of which is that the Unger experience proves we can safely release people who have committed a serious, violent offense.  And since they’ve been home, the Ungers have been contributing to their communities; as volunteers and mentors they help keep us all safer by encouraging youths to avoid the mistakes they made when they were younger.

One of the things that make the Ungers unique is that, thanks to an investment by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, they received specialized reentry programming before and after release.  With that individualized support, the Ungers have had a less than 3 percent recidivism rate, a fraction of the Maryland rate of 40 percent.  This support is a significant advance over what most people receive and should be a model for governments across the country to replicate.

The Ungers were primarily convicted of homicide and rape, yet they have safely returned to the community. Too often we fail to take into consideration a research-based assessment of the risk of reoffending when making release decisions.  It is time to reconsider parole policies and assessment tools that disregard rehabilitation and continue to keep people locked up based solely on the severity of their underlying offense.

Imposing extremely long sentences, alongside low rates of parole, serves political motivations, not increased public safety.  By pivoting away from a parole approach focused solely on the crime committed, to one that assesses the current risk of re-offending and provides tailored re-entry services, states can safely reduce their prison population, save taxpayer money and create a fairer and more effective justice system in the process.  There are hundreds of thousands of geriatric-aged individuals in prisons across the country, many with the same profile as the Ungers.  Maryland alone could save over $100 million in the first year by reducing its low-risk geriatric population.

This commentary builds off this recent report by the Justice Policy Institute titled "The Ungers, 5 Years and Counting: A Case Study in Safely Reducing Long Prison Terms and Saving Taxpayer Dollars."

November 25, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 16, 2018

"Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees"

The title of this post is the title of this new publication from the National Reentry Resource Center and the CSG Justice Center. This webpage provides this summary and additional related materials:

The National Reentry Resource Center and the CSG Justice Center released a new edition of Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Second Chance Act (SCA).  Enacted with bipartisan support, SCA helps state, local, and tribal governments and nonprofit organizations in their work to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes among people who have been in the criminal justice system.  Since its passage 10 years ago, SCA has supported more than 900 grants for adult and youth reentry programs, as well as systemwide improvements to help jurisdictions better address the needs of people who are incarcerated.  Featuring 21 stories from programs across 19 states, Reentry Matters profiles the impact of SCA grant-funded programs through both the practitioners who run them and the people who are impacted by them.

For analysis of the most up-to-date recidivism data in 11 states, read Reducing Recidivism: States Deliver Results, which profiles states showing significant declines in their three-year return-to-prison rates and details how SCA grant awards have helped the 11 featured states to test recidivism-reduction strategies, invest in evidence-based practices, and increase the capacity and scale of programs.

Related materials

November 16, 2018 in Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

News and notes from the front lines of the debate over the FIRST STEP Act

The decision by President Donald Trump to support the FIRST STEP Act, discussed here and here, was a critical necessary development for the law to have a chance to passage.  But it was not alone sufficient to ensure the bill even gets a vote, especially as there is talk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still being less than eager to advance the bill to the Senate floor.  Various political players and possible ups-and-downs surrounding the bill are well covered in these new articles from the New York TimesPolitico and the Washington Post:

I want so very, very badly to be optimistic about the prospects for the FIRST STEP Act, in any form, to become law very, very soon.  But the pessimistic bet has been a winning one on the federal statutory criminal justice reform front for the last eight years, as politics and gridlock have trumped effective policy advancement.  One would hope that, in a properly functioning democracy, a bill with the support of the President and probably close to 90% of all members of Congress could and would become law.  But I am fearful that these reality may still not be enough to get the FIRST STEP Act into law.  Time will tell (and likely in the next few weeks).

UPDATE Here are some more discouraging headlines and stories for those who may have become unduly optimistic after Prez Trump's endorsement:

November 16, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"The Second Chances Gap"

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

Over the last decade, dozens of states have enacted “second chance” reforms that increase the eligibility of individuals charged or convicted of crimes to, upon application, shorten or downgrade their past convictions, clean their criminal records, and/or regain the right to vote.  While much fanfare has accompanied the increasing availability of “second chances,” less is known about their uptake.

This study introduces the concept of the “second chance gap” — the gap between eligibility for and award of certain forms of second chance relief, and sizes it in connection with several initiatives (Obama’s Clemency Initiative, California’s Propositions 47 and 64, and Maryland and Pennsylvania records clearing provisions).  It finds approximate uptake rates to be low (less than 20% in most cases) suggesting that among the studied initiatives, the majority of second chances have been missed chances, apparently due to administrative factors like low awareness and high-cost, high-friction application processes and backlog.

To narrow second chance gaps and unlock opportunities and equal access to benefits for individuals with criminal histories, this Essay argues, policymakers should embrace automation, burden-shifting, centralization, and consistency in the implementation of second chance laws.  Ensuring that the design and administration of second chance laws reflect their intent can help remove the red tape, not steel bars, that stand in the way of second chances.

November 14, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Latest push for passage of FIRST STEP Act with sentencing reforms now afoot

The New York Times and CNN are reporting this evening on the latest chapter in efforts to enact significant federal criminal justice reforms.  This lengthy New York Times piece is headlined "Bipartisan Sentencing Overhaul Moves Forward, but Rests on Trump," and here are excerpts:

A bipartisan group of senators has reached a tentative deal on the most substantial rewrite of the nation’s sentencing and prison laws in a generation, giving judges more latitude to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences and easing drug sentences that have incarcerated African-Americans at much higher rates than white offenders.  The lawmakers believe they can get the measure to President Trump during the final weeks of the year, if the president embraces it.

The compromise would eliminate the so-called stacking regulation that makes it a federal crime to possess a firearm while committing another crime, like a drug offense; expand the “drug safety valve” allowing judges to sidestep mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders; and shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, according to draft text of the bill obtained by The New York Times.

It would also retroactively extend a reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine signed into law in 2010, potentially affecting thousands of drug offenders serving lengthy sentences....

The support of the famously mercurial Mr. Trump is by no means guaranteed.  But if they can secure an endorsement, senators say they can move quickly on the kind of bipartisan achievement that has eluded Mr. Trump — and bedeviled senators and outside advocates of the overhaul for years....

If Mr. Trump supports the package, senators will still be up against a rapidly closing legislative window — Congress is set to break in mid-December — and certain opposition from conservative Republicans in both the Senate and the House. Democrats could also throw up roadblocks if liberals think they could get a better deal once Democrats take control of the House....

Lawmakers may have also gotten a boost with the departure of Jeff Sessions as attorney general last week. Mr. Sessions had used his post to order federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences for crime suspects, reversing Obama-era efforts to ease such penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders.  And he vigorously opposed legislative compromise, going head-to-head not only with Mr. Grassley but also with Mr. Kushner.

Mr. Kushner has had several meetings with Matthew G. Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, who has signaled that he is open to the changes.  The effort could be revived in the next Congress if he and allies are unable to succeed in the short term. Mr. Kushner has also traveled with Vice President Mike Pence in recent days to brief the vice president on the latest developments, the administration official said.

This CNN report is headlined "Senators, Kushner prepare to launch sentencing overhaul push in lame duck session," and starts and ends this way:

White House officials and a bipartisan group of senators are mounting an ambitious effort to push criminal justice legislation through Congress by the end of the year, four sources close to the process told CNN.

But first, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been leading the White House's prison and sentencing overhaul push, must ensure the President is on board with the latest version of the measure.  Kushner is slated to meet with Trump on Tuesday to press him to back the legislation, a senior administration official said....

One person close to the matter said that while the prospects for the measure several weeks ago seemed glum, its odds of passing now are above 50%.  The White House and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill agreed in August to postpone the legislation until after the midterm elections.

One source close to the process said that after the midterms -- which will bring shifting partisan dynamics to Congress in January -- White House officials working on the effort recognized they needed to move forward now.  "It's the lame duck or never strategy," one source close to the process said.

November 12, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 02, 2018

"The Biased Algorithm: Evidence of Disparate Impact on Hispanics"

The title of this post is the title of this new article available via SSRN authored by Melissa Hamilton.  Here is its abstract:

Algorithmic risk assessment holds the promise of reducing mass incarceration while remaining conscious of public safety.  Yet presumptions of transparent and fair algorithms may be unwarranted. Critics warn that algorithmic risk assessment may exacerbate inequalities in the criminal justice system’s treatment of minorities.  Further, calls for third party auditing contend that studies may reveal disparities in how risk assessment tools classify minorities. A recent audit found a popular risk tool overpredicted for Blacks.

An equally important minority group deserving of study is Hispanics.  The study reported herein examines the risk outcomes of a widely used algorithmic risk tool using a large dataset with a two-year followup period. Results reveal cumulative evidence of (a) differential validity and prediction between Hispanics and non-Hispanics and (b) algorithmic unfairness and disparate impact in overestimating the general and violent recidivism of Hispanics. 

November 2, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Pew reports on persons on probation or parole in US

The folks at Pew have this new posting titled in full "1 in 55 U.S. Adults Is on Probation or Parole: Better strategies can cut that rate while protecting public safety, decreasing drug misuse, and reducing incarceration." Here is how the posting gets started:

More than a decade ago, policymakers around the country seeking to protect public safety, improve accountability, and save taxpayer dollars initiated a wave of bipartisan reforms that has reduced the number of people behind bars in many states. Because of their high costs and visibility, prisons garnered substantial public attention on criminal justice, while relatively little was paid to the largest part of the correctional system: community supervision.

Probation and parole populations grew 239 percent from 1980 to 2016, and with that came a dramatic rise in the per capita rate of community supervision, which was 1 in 55 U.S. adults — nearly 2 percent — in 2016.  Although the community corrections population declined 11 percent since its all-time peak in 2007, it is still twice the size of the population incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails, combined. Notably, supervision rates vary considerably by state, from 1 in 18 in Georgia to 1 in 168 in New Hampshire, reflecting the difference in practices and policies across the nation.

This massive scale has too often prevented the community supervision system from effectively delivering on its mission to promote public safety through behavioral change and accountability.  Although about half of the roughly 2.3 million people who complete their probation and parole terms each year do so successfully, nearly a third fail for a range of reasons, and almost 350,000 of those individuals return to jail or prison, often for violating the rules rather than committing new crimes.

November 1, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Supreme Court grants cert on Haymond from Tenth Circuit to address when Apprendi and Alleyne meet supervised release!!

I am excited to report that the Supreme Court this afternoon, via this order list, added an interesting sentencing case to its docket by granting cert in United States v. Haymond, 17-1672, a case from the Tenth Circuit in which the defendant prevailed on the claim that the procedures used to sentence him following his supervised release violation was unconstitutional.  The Tenth Circuit opinion below in Haymond is available at this link, and the federal government's cert petition posed this "Question Presented":

Whether the court of appeals erred in holding “unconstitutional and unenforceable” the portions of 18 U.S.C. 3583(k) that required the district court to revoke respondent’s ten-year term of supervised release, and to impose five years of reimprisonment, following its finding by a preponderance of the evidence that respondent violated the conditions of his release by knowingly possessing child pornography. 

Seeking (unsuccessfully) to avoid a cert grant, the defendant's brief in opposition to cert framed the issue of the case this way: 

Following his conviction for possession of child pornography, a Class C felony that carried a statutory sentencing range of zero to ten years, a district court judge in a revocation hearing specifically found by only a preponderance of the evidence that Andre Haymond had violated the terms of his supervised release by committing a “second sex offense” as set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3583(k).  The statute required the district court to impose a sentence of not less than five years up to life in prison for commission of the new crime, rather than the zero to two-year statutory range ordinarily applicable for revocation in Class C felony cases.  Did the enhanced sentencing range carrying a mandatory minimum sentence in the revocation proceeding violate the Court’s longstanding jurisprudence guaranteeing a defendant charged with a serious criminal offense to a right to a jury trial under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments?

Given that there are now only two members of the Supreme Court who are generally hostile to Apprendi rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendment (Justices Alito and Breyer), I do not think it is a given that this grant of cert means that the Justices are eager to reverse the ruling below. But we really do not know just how far any of the other Justices, and especially the new guys Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, are willing to take the Fifth and Sixth Amendment in the sentencing universe, and so I am disinclined to make any predictions on any votes at this point (save for expected Justice Alito to be his usual vote against a criminal defendant).

October 26, 2018 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"How Jeff Sessions Is Undermining Trump’s Prison Reform Agenda"

The title of this post is the headline of this new lengthy Marshall Project piece.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts from just the first part of the article: 

In federal penitentiaries across the nation, prisoners eagerly awaiting a transfer to halfway houses say they are being told that they will have to wait weeks or months longer than they had anticipated because there is a shortage of beds at the transitional group homes.  But that’s not true.

According to inmates, halfway house staff and industry officials, scores of beds lie empty, with some estimates of at least 1,000 vacant spaces.  They remain unused due to a series of decisions that have sharply reduced the number of prisoners sent to halfway houses.  And home confinement, a federal arrangement similar to house arrest that allows prisoners to complete their sentences with minimal supervision, is being even more drastically curtailed.

The Bureau of Prisons says it is curbing overspending of past years and streamlining operations, but that doesn’t make sense.  Putting inmates in halfway houses or on home confinement is much cheaper than imprisonment.  The federal government spent almost $36,300 a year to imprison an inmate, $4,000 more compared with the cost to place a person in a halfway house in 2017, according to the Federal Register.  It costs $4,392 a year to monitor someone on home confinement, according to a 2016 report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Abandoning transitional supervision aligns with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ disputed opinion that reduced prison populations during the Obama administration are to blame for a small uptick in violent crime.  As a senator from Alabama, Sessions led the charge two years ago against a bill to ease sentences, and as attorney general he has instructed prosecutors to be more aggressive in charging defendants.  But his draconian ideas are undermining his own boss’ stated preference for early release and rehabilitation programs....

And now there is evidence the Bureau of Prisons, under Sessions’ direction, is actively discouraging the use of transitional supervision even under existing rules.  The Bureau of Prisons declined interviews and would not answer specific questions, but said in a statement that the “fiscal environment” prompted a thorough review of programs, which led to ways to “most effectively use our resources.”  The agency said placements are based on each prisoner’s needs, the prison system’s ability to meet them, public safety “and the need for the BOP to manage the inmate population in a responsible manner.”...

Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who leads bipartisan efforts to reshape sentencing laws and prisoner rehabilitation, said the Justice Department had not explained to Congress the cutback in inmate transfers to transitional housing.  “Attorney General Sessions has reversed key prison reforms like reducing the use of restricted housing and private prisons and improving education opportunities and reentry services,” Durbin said in a statement.  “It makes no sense to eliminate reforms that are proven to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.”

Since the 1960s, halfway houses have provided federal prisoners a running start before release to find work, which has been shown to help people stay crime-free longer.  A Pennsylvania state study found connections between higher rearrest rates and stints in halfway houses, while federal violations, violence and overdoses have contributed to poor public perception of the facilities.  But prisoners and their advocates say moving into a transitional residence gives inmates an incentive to avoid trouble in prison and join rehabilitative programs.

Under the Obama administration, the number of federal prisoners in halfway houses and other transitional programs boomed.  The federal government required the privately-run residences to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the Department of Justice also increased access to ankle monitors so more prisoners could finish sentences in their own homes.  At the peak in 2015, more than 10,600 prisoners resided in federal halfway houses. The number of inmates in home confinement — 4,600 — was up more than a third from the year before. In all, one in 14 of the people under Bureau of Prisons supervision was living at home or in a halfway house. Since then, the population in halfway houses has dropped by 28 percent to 7,670. Home confinement is in freefall, down 61 percent to a population of 1,822.  The majority of that cut has come in just the past year. Now only one in 20 people under federal supervision is in transitional housing....

Judge Ricardo S. Martinez, who chairs the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which helps write policies and guidelines for federal courts, said “we are also in the dark about those numbers.”  He said the committee is working to establish better communication with the Bureau of Prisons.  Federal judges, who can sentence defendants to halfway houses, need to know how much space is available.  Rough estimates based on the current population in halfway houses, internal memos, statements from prison officials and prison records put the number of vacant beds in the federal system anywhere from 1,000 to several times that number.  Swaths of beds lie empty even after the prison system ended contracts with 16 of its nearly 230 halfway houses, facilities described as “underutilized or serving a small population.”  Martinez, whose committee has pushed for placing more prisoners on home confinement, said that advances in tracking technology and risk assessments should alleviate public safety concerns.  “It’s a stupid waste of taxpayer money to put people in a confinement level they don’t need to be in,” the judge said.

October 25, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Expanding the Vote: Two Decades of Felony Disenfranchisement Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new report by The Sentencing Project.  Here is its "Overview":

More than 6 million citizens will be ineligible to vote in the midterm elections in November 2018 because of a felony conviction.  Nearly 4.7 million of them are not incarcerated but live in one of 34 states that prohibit voting by people on probation, parole, or who have completed their sentence.  Racial disparities in the criminal justice system also translate into higher rates of disenfranchisement in communities of color, resulting in one of every thirteen African American adults being ineligible to vote.

Despite these stark statistics, in recent years significant reforms in felony disenfranchisement policies have been achieved at the state level.  Since 1997, 23 states have amended their felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. 

These reforms include:

• Seven states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws

• Six states expanded voting rights to some or all persons under community supervision

• Seventeen states eased the restoration process for persons seeking to have their right to vote restored after completing sentence 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote as a result of felony disenfranchisement reforms

These policy changes represent national momentum for reform of restrictive voting rights laws.  As a result of the reforms achieved during the period from 1997-2018, an estimated 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote.

This report provides a state by state accounting of the changes to voting rights for people with felony convictions and measures its impact.  These changes have come about through various mechanisms, including legislative reform, executive action, and a ballot initiative.

October 17, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 08, 2018

Highlighting efforts by some prosecutors to help with expungements

Today's New York Times has this notable new article under the headline "Convicts Seeking to Clear Their Records Find More Prosecutors Willing to Help." Here are excerpts:

[A]lthough law enforcement officials have traditionally opposed [broadened expungement and sealing laws] for an array of reasons — including accountability, a belief that records are vital to public safety, and unstinting support for crime victims — a growing number of them have begun to recognize that criminal records can be enduring obstacles to self-sufficiency and even help trap people in cycles of crime.  Increasingly, they are overtly endorsing mercy through record suppression.

“It’s just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community,” said Terry Curry, the elected prosecutor in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis and has a population approaching 1 million residents.  “If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”

Though in most places the paperwork burden for expungements has fallen on private lawyers and nonprofit legal clinics, South Florida prosecutors now routinely hold events intended to help people wipe away records of arrests but not convictions.  A district attorney in rural Louisiana leads information sessions about expungements for some felony convictions after a 10-year waiting period; a Vermont prosecutor recently held a record-clearing clinic; and the authorities near Fort Bragg, N.C., attracted about 500 people to an expungement event last year.  Last month, the Brooklyn district attorney promoted “Begin Again” events, where, one advertisement said, people were invited to “clear your record of a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or warrant.”

But there is still a national patchwork of policies and terminologies, from destroying records to sealing them to simply noting that a conviction is effectively vacated. States have imposed various waiting periods, conditions and fees.  Some places have made their processes deliberately simple, while others have complicated approaches that may require legal assistance or court hearings.

The proliferation of new laws, and newfound enthusiasm on the part of some prosecutors, has hardly erased all doubts about the wisdom of suppressing records.  Many prosecutors, especially in rural areas, remain skeptical of any action to show mercy for a person’s past, and some judges engage in measured resistance, holding hearings more to complain about an expungement law than to weigh an application’s merits.  “You have prosecutors and judges who just think it’s wrong: ‘You’ve caused trouble in this county, you’re a wrongdoer and you shouldn’t get a blank slate,’” said Bernice Corley, the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

But Margaret Love, the executive director of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center and a former United States pardon attorney, said that clemency and expungements are part of the criminal justice process for a reason.  “It ought to be something that prosecutors welcome and use to their advantage to create criminal justice success stories, to advertise criminal justice success stories,” she said.

The nuanced approach in Indiana, where officials hoped that expungements would improve people’s job prospects, is increasingly seen as a model.  Under its so-called Second Chance law, the state has a tiered system in which the offense, and the outcome of the case, determines the waiting period and the exact relief.  Indiana does not destroy records, but can limit access to them and mark them as expunged, and crime victims are permitted to express their views before any decision is made.  “Indiana should be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime and the best place, once you’ve done your time, to get a second chance,” Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president, said when he signed the records measure into law in 2013.

I am glad to see this topic garner the attention of the Times, though I am a bit disappointed not to see any mention of the particularly notable marijuana-reform developments on this front. Specifically, as I discussed briefly in this recent paper for the Federal Sentencing Reporter, a number of prosecutors in California began taking proactive steps to clear prior marijuana convictions after the state enacted marijuana legalization in 2016.  

October 8, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Highlighting the importance of policies that support families values for the incarcerated

The group R Street has this notable new policy paper titled "The importance of supporting family connections to ensure successful re-entry" authored by Emily Mooney and Nila Bala.  Here is the paper's introduction and conclusion:

As of the latest estimates, approximately two million individuals are currently incarcerated in the United States. Each of these has a family, which broadens the impact of incarceration to millions of family members across the nation. This brings negative repercussions: incarcerated parents are separated from children, interpersonal relationships become strained and financial support disappears.  Furthermore, federal, state and local policies often present barriers to meaningful and continued family connections while incarcerated. Yet, paradoxically, it is during this time that positive family connections are so key.  Indeed, they are critical to successful re-entry after a person’s time is served, as they help encourage individual transformation, mitigate the negative impact of incarceration on children and other loved ones, and support stronger families in general.  This, in turn, makes communities safer.  For these reasons, society can benefit by understanding the importance of these connections and creating policies that help to bolster them for the good of incarcerated individuals, their families and their communities at large....

Behind most incarcerated individuals is a family that is critical to encouraging positive change on the inside and supporting them as they prepare for life on the outside.  Despite this, government policies and family circumstances often impede the ability of families to stay connected during incarceration.  However, changes to government policies, community-based partnerships and the expansion of family-oriented programming can help families overcome these obstacles, with great benefit both to individuals and to society as a whole.

October 8, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Excited to hear Shon Hopwood speak about earned prison credit as Ohio considers ballot initiative known now as Issue 1

For months I have been flagged here and elsewhere the interesting and intricate drug sentencing and prison reform initiative on the November 2018 ballot here in Ohio.  Originally called the "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment," the initiative now is just known within Ohio as Issue 1.   With early voting in Ohio now just days away, the new Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has its latest Issue 1 program  taking place today. 

Specifically, at the College of Law at 12noon, is the second of our five public panels under the title Ballot Insights.  (Registration for these panels is available at this link, where you can also find more details on the focus for each of the panels.)  Today's panel is focused on the Issue 1 provisions expanding "earned time credit" for Ohio prisoners to reduce their sentences through rehabilitative programming, and we have the pleasure of hosting Shon Hopwood as one of the panelists. 

In addition to the panels, DEPC has also created a Resources Page for Issue 1, which includes links to the ballot language, position statements from various groups and select media coverage.  DEPC is also building out a Commentary Page on Issue 1 for publishing original commentary that the Center has solicited. 

 Prior related posts:

October 4, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

New Pew issue brief reviews probation and parole in the US

The folks at Pew have this interesting new Issue Brief titled "Probation and Parole Systems Marked by High Stakes, Missed Opportunities: 1 in 55 adults is under community supervision." Here are excerpts from its "Overview":

Incarceration has long dominated the national conversation on criminal justice, because the U.S. prison population skyrocketed between the 1980s and late 2000s.  Starting in 2007, policymakers seeking to protect public safety, improve accountability, and save taxpayer dollars initiated a wave of bipartisan reforms that has reduced the number of people behind bars in many states.  Yet this movement has largely overlooked the largest part of the correctional system: community supervision.

Nationwide, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population, including those in state and federal prisons and local jails.  The growth and size of the supervised population has undermined the ability of local and state community corrections agencies to carry out their basic responsibilities to provide the best public safety return on investment as well as a measure of accountability.  Although research has identified effective supervision and treatment strategies, the system is too overloaded to implement them, so it sends large numbers of probationers and parolees back to prison for new crimes or for failure to follow the rules.

As part of a collaborative effort to improve the nation’s community corrections system, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation analyzed the leading research and identified the most pressing problems and some promising solutions.  The available data leave many questions unanswered, but this review reveals key insights and challenges many assumptions about supervision.  Among the findings:

Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses....

Improvements in supervision offer opportunities to enhance public safety, decrease drug misuse, and reduce incarceration....

Policy changes can reduce correctional control and improve public safety.

These findings demonstrate the need for greater scrutiny of the community corrections system by policymakers and the public.  They also reinforce an emerging consensus among leading practitioners for a fundamental change in the vision and mission of supervision: from punishing failure to promoting success.

September 25, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

"Extending 'Dignity Takings': Re-Conceptualizing the Damage Caused by Criminal History and Ex-Offender Status

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Jamila Jefferson-Jones now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The consequences of a criminal conviction extend far beyond “time served”: Ex-offenders often face social and civil stigmas and disabilities that continue for the rest of their lives.  These collateral consequences cause real harm to the reputation, dignity, and livelihood that can be difficult to quantify in the strictly economic analysis used in traditional constitutional takings analysis.  These collateral consequences are a form of dignity taking which deprive the ex-offender of their status as a full member of society.  Bernadette Atuahene originated the idea of “dignity takings”, eventually settling on a definition that combines a traditional government taking of property with an outcome of dehumanization or infantilization.  Scholars have applied this analysis to a number of cases of tangible property, but have only just begun to expand it into the criminal justice and reputational harm cases.

By applying the framework of dignity takings to the difficulties faced by ex-offenders in their reentry to society, I will demonstrate how we can better express the harms caused by the collateral consequences of conviction.  By doing so, we can focus our attention not on economic damage and restitution, but the restoration of lost dignity and humanity.

September 24, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Misdemeanor Records and Employment Outcomes: An Experimental Study"

The title of this post is the title of this new empirical research available via SSRN and authored by Peter Leasure. Here is its abstract:

Objectives:  This study examined whether misdemeanor drug convictions impact entry-level employment outcomes.

Methods:  A multifactor between subjects correspondence design was used whereby fictitious resumes are sent to employers.  Resumes were randomly assigned to one of three groups: no criminal record, one-year-old misdemeanor record, and a one-year-old felony record.  Resumes were also randomly assigned with a distinctively White or African American name. Job type was used as an additional predictor.

Results:  Results indicate that a misdemeanor conviction significantly hinders early employment outcomes for both African American and White applicants.  However, results did not show statistically significant differences in callbacks between races.

Conclusions:  These results should be utilized to better inform defendants, practitioners, and policy-makers on the negative impacts of low-level convictions.

September 12, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Digital Expungement"

The title of this post is the title of this paper I just saw on SSRN authored by Eldar Haber.  Here is its abstract:

Digital technology might lead to the extinction of criminal rehabilitation.  In the digital era, criminal history records that were expunged by the state remain widely available through commercial vendors (data brokers) who sell this information to interested parties, or simply through a basic search of the Internet.  The wide availability of information on expunged criminal history records increases the collateral consequences a criminal record entails, thereby eliminating the possibility of reintegration into society. Acknowledging the social importance of rehabilitation, policymakers attempted to regulate the practices of data brokers by imposing various legal obligations and restrictions, usually relating to the nature and accuracy of criminal records and the purposes for which they may be used.  These regulations have been proven insufficient to ensure rehabilitation. But regardless of future outcomes of such regulatory attempts, policymakers have largely overlooked the risks of the Internet to expungement.  Many online service providers and hosting services enable the wide dissemination and accessibility of criminal history records that were expunged.  Legal research websites, websites that publish booking photographs taken during an investigation (mugshots), social media platforms, and media archives all offer access to expunged criminal histories, many times without charge, and all with the simple use of a search engine. Without legal intervention, rehabilitation in the digital age in the U.S. has become nearly impossible.

This Article offers a legal framework for reducing the collateral consequences of expunged criminal records by offering to re-conceptualize the public nature of criminal records. It proceeds as follows.  After an introduction, Part II examines rehabilitation and expungement as facets of criminal law.  Part III explores the challenges of digital technology to rehabilitation measures.  Part IV evaluates and discusses potential ex-ante and ex-post measures that could potentially enable rehabilitation in the digital age.  It argues that while ex-post measures are both unconstitutional and unrealistic for enabling digital expungement, ex-ante measures could be a viable solution.  Accordingly, this Article suggests implanting a graduated approach towards the public nature of criminal history records, which would be narrowly tailored to serve the interests of rehabilitation-by-expungement. Finally, the last Part concludes the discussion and warns against reluctance in regulating expunged criminal histories.

September 11, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Events and resources covering Ohio sentencing and prison reform ballot initiative known now as Issue 1

Depc_testA few months ago, I flagged here the interesting and intricate drug sentencing and prison reform initiative headed for the November 2018 ballot here in Ohio.  Originally called the "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment," the initiative now is just known within Ohio as Issue 1.   With early voting in Ohio now just a month away and Election Day 2018 not much more than 50 days away, the new Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has a lot of Issue 1 programming about to begin and has a lot of resources already assembled on its website.

This Thursday, September 13 at 12noon, starts a series five public panels under the title Ballot Insights.  Registration for these panels is available at this link, where you can also find more details on scheduled speakers and on which aspects of the Issue 1 will be the focus for particular panels (e.g., a first panel in October is focused on the Issue 1 provisions expanding "earned time credit" for Ohio prisoners to reduce their sentences through rehabilitative programming; a second panel in October looks at how to ensure any increased funding for drug treatment is utilized effectively). 

I have the pleasure of moderating the first Issue 1 panel this coming Thursday, which is titled simply "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment: Step in the Right Direction."  This panel will include a leading proponent of Issue 1 (Steven JohnsonGrove of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center), a leading opponent of Issue 1 (Louis Tobin of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association), and a leading Ohio criminal justice reform expert (Daniel Dew of The Buckeye Institute).  The bios of the presenters are detailed at this link.

In addition to all the panels, DEPC has also created a Resources Page for Issue 1, which includes links to the ballot language, position statements from various groups and select media coverage.  DEPC is also building out a Commentary Page on Issue 1 for publishing original commentary that the Center has solicited. (A pair of public health scholars submitted this first commentary for publication on the DEPC site.)

 Prior related posts:

September 10, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling completes his time in federal prison

The name Jeff Skilling still stirs up a lot of sentencing thoughts for me because, 15 years ago, he was portrayed as one of the "worst-of-the-worst" white-collar offenders and he was one of the first very high-profile white-collar defendants to be sentenced after Booker made the guidelines advisory.  Consequently, this new article caught my eye under the headline "Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling released from prison and sent to a halfway house." Here are the particulars and context:

Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former Enron CEO sentenced to a long prison term for his role in one of most notorious corporate fraud cases in history, was recently released from a minimum security federal prison camp in Alabama to a halfway house at an undisclosed location.

Enron's spectacular collapse cost investors billions of dollars and wiped out the retirement savings — not to mention the jobs — of thousands of employees.  Skilling, 64, was convicted of 12 counts of securities fraud, five counts of making false statements to auditors, one count of insider trading and one count of conspiracy in 2006 for his role in hiding debt and orchestrating a web of financial fraud that ended in the Houston company's bankruptcy.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined $45 million, the harshest sentence of any former Enron executive.  Five years ago, Skilling's sentence was reduced to 14 years by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake.  He is scheduled to be released Feb. 21, 2019, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Federal prisoners are often released from prison several months early to a halfway house, a highly restricted dormitory-like setting that helps inmates ease back into society. They must maintain curfews, find work and stay out of trouble.  A. Kelley, assistant residential re-entry manager for the Bureau of Prisons in San Antonio, said the bureau would not say where Skilling is living.

The Bureau of Prisons typically sends inmates to a halfway house in their home city where they resided before incarceration.  It helps them re-acclimate to a more normal life and re-establish relationships with their families, said Philip Hilder, a white-collar defense lawyer who represented Sherron Watkins, a former vice president at Enron who went to then-Enron chairman Kenneth Lay to warn him of accounting irregularities she discovered while reviewing Enron's assets.

Inmates are typically required to get a job while they're at a halfway house and to report regularly to the federal probation department for up to three years, Hilder said. Skilling's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

September 4, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Prison chief explains his "non-political approach" to sentencing and prison reforms

John Wetzel, who serves as chair of The Council of State Governments Justice Center, president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, has this new Hill commentary under the headline "A non-political approach focused on what works is key to solving prison crisis."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

[W]hile criminal justice reform currently occupies the rarified airspace of being mutually appealing to both sides of the political spectrum at the macro level, there remains a split on whether sentencing reform — the front end of the criminal justice system — should be included as a component of the First Step Act.  As written, the legislation focuses solely on reforms to back end within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

With the caveat that any improvements to the federal corrections system – even incremental improvements — should be welcomed with open arms, the factual answer is that to realize actual, quantifiable improvement, sentencing reform is essential. It’s easy and common to embrace the notion that recidivism reduction is a back end issue and one owned solely by corrections professionals like me.  This notion is dead wrong.

As a Republican appointed as Secretary of Corrections by a Republican governor (Tom Corbett) and who was asked to continue in the role by a Democratic governor (Tom Wolf), I would argue that good sentencing, and by extension, prison policy, can rise above party politics.

I believe the formula for recidivism reduction is this: Incarcerate the right people for the right amount of time and provide them with the programming they need that specifically addresses the criminogenic factors that led to them committing a crime and, finally, provide the individualized reentry support to start them on a path to good citizenship....

Governor Tom Wolf, in kicking off Pennsylvania’s most recent criminal justice reform initiative, exemplifies the outcomes measure: less crime, fewer victims.  Achieving that goal requires our system to make good decisions every step of the way — from who we incarcerate to how long, including what conditions we incarcerate them in through what supports we offer to restore them to society.

August 30, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"Summonsing Criminal Desistance: Convicted Felons' Perspectives on Jury Service"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper authored by James Binnall recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This exploratory study is the first to examine how convicted felons view the jury process and their role in that process.  Data derived from interviews with former and prospective felon-jurors in Maine, the only US jurisdiction that does not restrict a convicted felon’s opportunity to serve as a juror, reveal that participants displayed an idealized view of jury service, stressing a commitment to serve conscientiously.  Additionally, inclusion in the jury process affirmed their transitions from “offenders” to “non-offenders.”  In response, participants exhibited a sense of particularized self-worth, emphasizing that negative experiences with the criminal justice system make one a more effective juror.  In sum, this study suggests that among convicted felons, inclusion in the jury process may prompt conformity with the “ideal juror” role, facilitate prosocial identity shifts by mitigating the “felon” label, and help former offenders to find personal value.

August 25, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

A true insider's reaction to Senator Cotton's commentary about federal criminal justice reform efforts

In prior posts here and here and here, I noted the commentary from Senator Tom Cotton attacking the federal criminal justice reform bills moving through Congress and some responses it has engendered.  Today I receive an email from the son of a federal prisoner who maintains this interesting blog with postings from his father.   The blog is worth checking out and it is titled "Blue Collar Criminal: 60-something small business owner.  Screwed by the DOJ.  Now I'm in prison.  These are my thoughts."

In addition to pointing me to this blog, the prisoner's son shared his father's response to the piece Senator Cotton wrote in the Wall Street Journal and gave me permission to reprint his father's writings here:

I write this response to Sen. Tom Cotton's editorial ("Reform the Prisons Without Going Soft on Crime") from within my 8 X 10' federal prison cell I share with another medicare-eligible inmate.  We agree that Cotton's essay should have been entitled - Reform the Prisons Without Doing a Damn Thing.

Cotton bases a lot of his assertions on statistics. In lieu of rebutting them, which would be a bit hard given my current lack of access to the internet, I have to settle on "inferior" data, which is the actual experience of actual prisoners whom I know, and find every bit as credible as anyone I knew on the "outside".  The specific ones I'm bouncing Cotton's preposterous claims off of, are guys with 10+ years of incarceration, and who have experienced a wide variety of federal prisons before working themselves down to the federal camp.  Though I've only been "down" one year, I find my bullsh*t detector is pretty reliable, and comes in handy when evaluating prison stories and reading editorials such as Cotton's.  Based on these findings, I not only doubt the factuality of the statistics he uses, I gravely mistrust the motives behind them.

I came here a big fan of Sen. Cotton's.  I first knew of him when he was a soldier, serving in Iraq, who was thought for awhile to be fictitious, due to the cognitive dissonance produced by the idea of a Harvard Univ./Harvard Law School grad being an infantry officer. I was very attuned to him, since my son was also in Iraq at the same time.  He also put his pen to good use in rebutting anti-war propaganda.  I was shocked, when my "adventure" with the DOJ brought me here, to find that Cotton, along with another of my conservative heroes - Sen. Jeff Sessions - were regarded as the mortal enemies of federal inmates, at least those who followed the progress of issues related to prison reform.  My move away from fanhood has been sealed by this editorial, which has impressed me that he's traded the tools of war for the tools of sophistry.

For starters, in Cotton's mind, we are all "criminals", a word he loves to repeat. One-size-fits-all.  Excuse my sensitivity, and I leave it to friends and family to defend my name, but many of these guys are as fine individuals as any I know, and were "productive, law-abiding citizens" until the feds came after them.  (If you find that hard to swallow, you might care to read Harvey Silverglate's 'Three Felonies A Day'.)

He calls the House bill "flawed", and to the extent that it tampers with mandatory minimum sentences, or gives judges more discretion, a prescription for a "jailbreak". Why is lengthening a sentence wise, but shortening some foolish?  Why is Cotton incapable of recognizing that prison populations are comprised of both truly dangerous, bad-guy criminals, and nonviolent, non-dangerous law-transgressors (including some who are truly and factually innocent)? Many of the guys I know in here would probably only "endanger communities" by cutting their neighbors lawn while they're on vacation.  (And I'm not here making a distinction between "white-collar" and "drug offenders".  I've learned that 'drug offender' is also not a one-size-fits-all category).

In his paragraph on the current "drug epidemic", he cites a number of statistics to justify mandatory minimum sentencing, but ends by essentially admitting those statistics might not be significant or prove his point.

His statements about how very little of recidivism is attributable to parole violation, does not purport with what I've seen nor the experience of my "experts".  Most of the guys in my unit who have prior convictions are here now because their parole officer caught them 'high'.  One guy here, a farm boy, had a prior drug felony, and "caught" an 8 year sentence for a felony firearms crime.  He was deer hunting in a tree stand, having lost his right to bear arms by virtue of being a drug felon. Cotton's statistic to prove that drug convictions lead to rearrests for murder and rape 77% of the time, strikes my fellow inmates as not only false, but weird, crazy scare tactics.

Cotton's cherry-picked example of a drug dealer, Wendell Callahan, who murdered his girlfriend and her daughters, is great for demagogic purposes, but irrelevant to the debate of shortening the eligible sentences of nonviolent felons.  This has to be weighed in a context that looks objectively at good outcomes as well as negative.  Keeping families apart, and depriving children of their fathers, when its not necessary for the public good, is a social evil; and this is what mandatory minimum sentences often do.  It leads to and insures that the next generation will likely repeat the mistakes of their parents.

Cotton attacks even the term "mass incarceration" on the strange basis that it couldn't possibly be big, since it could be bigger.  I would say simply, that whichever country incarcerates the highest percentage of it's citizenry deserves the title of "mass incarcerator".  This would be the United States.  One book I've read states that the U.S. incarcerates 6 to 12 times more than the following countries: Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Italy or Australia.  Yet Cotton thinks we don't lock up enough.

But it gets worse. Cotton writes that "virtually no one goes to federal prison for "low-level, nonviolent" drug offenses.  Even I, a relative newbie, know guys who are not only here for that, but have sentences exceeding 10 years.  He says those that are here for just that have only pleaded to that, though they actually committed more serious offenses. Baloney.  Here's how that goes - they commit a crime deserving 1 year (for example) and plead "down" to a 4 year sentence, because they're being threatened with a 12 year sentence.  My friends here can't believe that Cotton doesn't know this.

It's not unusual for the feds to concoct 20 charges, and settle for 2. It happens to everyone.  It happened to me.  They are extremely creative in their use of enhancements.  (If the real crime were so heinous, why would they settle for a much lighter sentence?)

And then this - "Presidential pardons are a much better instrument of justice than broad sentencing reductions." Puh-leeze! (I think this ridiculous statement was just a set-up for his snarky shot at Trump.)

Cotton dismisses fiscal conservatives who would hope to reduce the cost of the American prison system. "The costs," he says, "of crime ... far outweigh the downsides of putting serious criminals behind bars."  That all depends on what you consider to be "serious" criminals, and how you calculate the "downsides".  At my camp, the common consensus is that the average age here is 50+.  That includes quite a few in their 70s, and about 3 or 4 in their 80s. Maybe a dozen use canes.  The financial distress on families and the negative economic impact on communities would certainly be part of the calculation of the "downsides", as would unquantifiable costs such as the loss of adult children to care for aged and debilitated parents.  Certainly also there's a tremendous cost to communities who have lost key employees and employers, volunteers to non-profits, etc.  There's a 80 yr old oncologist/researcher who's here due to a financial transgression of a side company he was a partner to.

As to his closing assertion that "mandatory minimums .... work", there is a great body of research that would show otherwise.  I, for one, would love to see a poll taken of federal judges as to the truth of that statement.

Sen. Cotton ends his diatribe against prison reform, the kind that might actually reduce the prison population, with an affirmation of "faith-based and other antirecidivism programs".  I heartily concur, in fact, I wish everyone would embrace the teaching of the Bible. In it we read this great truth - "For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumph over judgment." (James 2.13)

If that is deemed as soft on crime, we need to deeply consider where we are heading.

August 24, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Felon-Jurors in Vacationland: A Field Study of Transformative Civic Engagement in Maine"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by James Binnall. Here is the abstract:

Maine is the only jurisdiction in the United States that places no limitations on a convicted felon’s juror eligibility.  Instead, Maine screens prospective felon-jurors using their normal jury selection procedures. In recent years, scholars have suggested that meaningful community engagement can help facilitate former offenders’ reintegration and criminal desistance.  From that theoretical posture, a number of empirical studies have explored the connection between participation in the electorate and the reentry of former offenders. Those studies suggest that voting has the potential to prompt pro-social changes among former offenders.  Still, to date, no research has focused on jury service as a form of civic inclusion that may foster successful reintegration and criminal desistance.

Drawing on data derived from a large-scale field study in Maine, the present article addresses this research void, arguing that the jury is perfectly positioned as a tool for change, employable by jurisdictions seeking to facilitate the successful reentry of former offenders.  This article further notes that Maine is the only U.S. jurisdiction that has exploited this transformative power of the jury process. 

August 22, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Still more on Senator Cotton's efforts to thwart significant federal criminal justice reforms and responses there to

In posts late last week here and here, I noted the commentary from Senator Tom Cotton attacking the federal criminal justice reform bills moving through Congress and some responses it has already engendered.  Now Politico has this new article on this beat headlined "Sentencing reform tests Cotton’s sway with Trump."  Here are a few highlights from a lengthy article:

Tom Cotton is going all out to defeat a last-ditch effort to pass sentencing reform before this year’s midterm elections, hoping to win a high-stakes influence campaign over President Donald Trump on the issue.

Cotton is lambasting the proposal as a “jailbreak” that would “let serious felons back on the streets,” taking on a daunting coalition fighting for the package that includes the Koch political operation, White House adviser Jared Kushner and a number of powerful GOP senators. But Cotton believes that, in the end, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will side with him.

“The president went to Singapore and agreed with the Singaporeans that we should give the death penalty to drug dealers. I can’t imagine the president wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers,” the Arkansas Republican said in an interview. “I believe Sen. McConnell shares my view that we should not let serious felons out of jail and we should not shorten the sentences for drug dealers.”

Even opponents of sentencing reform will privately admit it would likely pass if McConnell brings it up. But Cotton’s loud opposition may determine whether or not McConnell even allows a vote given his reluctance to summon up legislation that divides the conference — right before the election, no less....

The conflict is pitting some of Trump’s closest allies against each other. On one side are Cotton and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who calls the sentencing component “troubling” and wants to concentrate on prison reform. On the other are Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who wants to go even further on criminal justice reform but would be willing to accept the slimmed-down proposal, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supports it....

Though the president supports the standalone prison reform effort, no one is quite sure where exactly Trump is going to come down on the sentencing piece that’s being added by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Advocates for sentencing reform are hoping the president will offer a crucial endorsement to get the legislation across the finish line after commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson for drug offenses, while opponents say he’s unlikely to undercut his law-and-order persona....

“There is not a constituency, certainly among Republican voters, to let serious felons out of prison or slash their prison sentences,” Cotton said in the interview. “It’s ill-advised policy and even more ill-advised timing.” Countered Paul, another close Trump ally with opposing views: “We have a lot of non-violent criminals in our prison and they’re taking up space that could be better put to use for violent criminals."

Cotton also has strong allies, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long opposed sweeping sentencing reforms. The two have frustrated people working on the bill.

Yet many on the law enforcement side, a key Trump constituency, are working with Cotton. Jonathan Thompson, the National Sheriff Association's executive director, has spoken to the president twice about sentencing reform in the past year and half: “The president knows we’re concerned.” “We think what he’s doing is terrific. Sen. Cotton recognizes that it’s a very flawed bill,” said Larry Leiser, president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. “We’re hopeful the president won’t [endorse it].”

Unless Trump makes a major push for the legislation and takes on his critics like Cotton, there are many reasons for McConnell not to bring up the bill before the election. It would likely take at least a week for the Senate to process, time that McConnell might think is better spent processing lifetime judicial appointments ahead of an uncertain midterm outcome. Plus it would invoke an ugly intraparty foodfight, squaring Cotton off with proponents of sentencing reform like Grassley, who has been tweeting that the president “wants something done on prison/crim justice reform. So do I.”

“The consensus is the prison reform stuff,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “There are people who want to do more, but it’s the usual issue: Do you want try and do more and fail, or do you want to do what’s possible?”

Despite the long odds, the battle is raging behind the scenes. Internal discussions of the subject at Senate lunches have been heated, according to Republican sources, a preview of what might happen on the Senate floor if the chamber takes it up. It’s the same dynamic that kept McConnell from bringing up a larger criminal justice reform package in 2016 as Cotton railed against it and declared the United States has an "under-incarceration problem.”

Trump’s “for prison reform, I’m for prison reform. What I don’t support is sentencing reductions under the guise of prison reforms, and that’s unfortunately what many senators are moving towards,” Cotton said in the interview. A number of conservative senators have quietly expressed their opposition to the sentencing reform component, according to groups working to defeat it. But Cotton's taken a bigger gamble by getting out front to stop a bill that hasn’t even produced yet.

Meanwhile, over here at the Daily Signal, John G. Malcolm and Brett Tolman have this lengthy new commentary under the headline "Why It’s Not ‘Soft On Crime’ to Support Criminal Justice Reform." Here is a snippet focused on mandatory minimums:

Cotton and others argue that mandatory minimum charges are reserved for kingpins and other major drug dealers, and low-level dealers are rarely subjected to mandatory minimum penalties. However, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan independent agency that collects and analyzes federal sentencing data, found that a surprisingly large number of low-level drug couriers are subjected to mandatory minimum penalties.

It is easy to see how that happens. Under federal law, a defendant charged as part of a drug conspiracy—even a low-level courier, who may be acting solely to support his own addiction—can be charged and sentenced based on the total amount of drugs sold by everyone who participated in that conspiracy. That’s true even if the courier never knew who these people were or what quantity of drugs they sold.

Of course, the courier should be punished. But how badly? Remember, we are talking about mandatory minimum penalties. A judge can always impose a higher sentence, up to the statutory maximum, for deserving drug traffickers and violent criminals. The proposed reductions are, in truth, quite modest.

Senators are currently debating the possibility of reducing the mandatory minimum penalties for second-time drug offenders from 20 years to 15 years, and for third-time drug offenders from life in prison without the possibility of parole to 25 years. Does anyone really think that minimum penalties of 15 and 25 years are not serious? 

Some of many prior recent related posts:

August 21, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Discussions of criminal justice supervision and collateral consequences that merit extended conversations

This past week I saw two notable commentaries over at The Conversation. Here are links and brief excerpts:

Vincent Schiraldi, "Parole and probation have grown far beyond resources allocated to support them"

Today, there are twice as many people supervised on parole or probation as are incarcerated in the U.S....

Thousands of probation and parole officers supervise nearly 5 million people across the U.S. However, as the number of people under community corrections has swelled, resources for officers have lagged. While twice as many people are supervised in the community as are incarcerated, 9 out of 10 correctional dollars is funneled to prisons according to a report from 2009, the most recent year with available data....

In 2017, every major community corrections association in the U.S., along with 45 elected or appointed prosecutors and 35 probation and parole officials as well as myself wrote in a statement: “Designed originally as an alternative to incarceration, community corrections has become a significant contributor to mass incarceration” that should be downsized while reinvesting the savings in “improving community based services and supports for people under supervision.”

Stanley Andrisse, "I went from prison to professor — here’s why criminal records should not be used to keep people out of college"

Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions — Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine — I believe this move is a positive one.  People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Divided We Fall: Parole Supervision Conditions Prohibiting Inter-Offender Associations"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted on SSRN and authored by James Binnall. Here is the abstract:

In the United States, almost all criminal offenders who serve a term of imprisonment are subject to a period of post-incarceration supervision.  Commonly known as parole, this form of supervision requires former inmates to comply with a variety of conditions.  A nationwide survey of standard parole conditions reveals that a vast majority of jurisdictions categorically restrict parolees’ associations with other parolees, convicted criminals, and/or convicted felons.  These blanket offender no-association conditions ostensibly presume that former offenders are irreparably flawed, homogenous, and that inter-offender relationships are uniformly criminogenic.

This article questions those presumptions, suggesting that offender no-association conditions endorse an untenable conceptualization of former offenders, a rejection of evidence-based parole practices, an uninformed view of inter-offender associations, and a superficial application of criminological theory.  This article further argues that by categorically prohibiting all inter-offender associations, offender no-association conditions foreclose strengths-based approaches to reentry and inhibit mechanisms that can foster criminal desistance. In this way, such conditions unnecessarily subvert the rehabilitative goal of parole, likely making them impermissibly overbroad in their current form.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Will Trump White House soon "deploy its assets ... to stump" for federal criminal justice reform? It may be critical.

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill commentary authored by Holly Harris headlined "Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done." Here are excerpts:

When it comes to excuses to pass over federal criminal justice reform, I have heard them all, from “it takes at least 10 years to pass legislation like this” to “there is no way move a criminal justice bill in an election year.” But the one that really burns me is “you cannot point to state success because the federal system is much more complicated.”

The arrogance of the Beltway is incredible.  Of the more than 2.3 million people serving time behind bars in this country, more than 1.3 million are housed in state prisons, and about 615,000 sit in local jails.  Only 225,000 are housed in a federal facility. The Texas prison system alone holds more inmates.  State prison systems deal with overcrowding, stifling budget cuts, and drug epidemics that show no signs of abating.  Because they can see and experience this crisis first hand, governors on the left and the right are passing strong criminal justice reforms that offer alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment programs, provide opportunities that put people back to work, and save millions of taxpayer dollars.

Now these governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.  President Trump, in a savvy move, convened a criminal justice roundtable at his resort in New Jersey and invited Republican and Democratic governors from states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia, all of which have passed strong criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support that decrease incarcerated populations, improve reentry programs, and ultimately lower crime and recidivism.  This is all part of a strategy to take the fight to pass a federal bill straight to the people and away from the status quo in Washington....

Keenly aware that red states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky have made aggressive changes to their justice systems, including sentencing reforms and felony expungement laws, [Jared] Kushner has showed the president these success stories.  In this latest roundtable, Trump included the Democratic governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, who shared that reforms implemented in his state led to a 20 percent decrease in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, which frees up valuable resources to fight dangerous crimes and reduce recidivism.

While the public safety benefits of reform are undoubtedly impressive to a “tough on crime” president, the overwhelming public support for these issues must be equally attractive.  Voters across the country are looking to Congress to act. Polling from earlier this year shows that 75 percent of voters, a clear supermajority crossing all partisan, geographic, education, income, racial and ethnic boundaries, believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed and support changes such as fixing our cash bail system and replacing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

In the final stretch to a Senate vote, do not be surprised to see this White House deploy its assets to the states to stump for a bill they know the American people want.  There will be folks from every walk of life lining up behind them, from business leaders and military veterans to civil rights advocates and faith leaders.  Just this week, people from 50 organizations of all political stripes and bipartisan senior legislative staff met to talk details. When the phone lines light up in offices all over Capitol Hill demanding a vote, Washington may well be out of excuses.

Candidly, I will be quite surprised if this White House were to deploy its assets to stump for reform, but I certainly hope this will happen.  I am fairly confident that if Prez Trump were to do a series of tweets in support of a federal criminal justice reform bill, that bill would have a much greater chance of getting to his desk.  And Prez Trump does not have to change minds about pending reforms: there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for the basic substance of nearly every serious sentencing and prison reform bill. 

The current challenge is  getting congressional leadership to settle on which version of which bill will be brought up for a vote. Senate leadership has been the bottleneck lately, and the White House surely could and should focus, publicly and privately, on advocacy toward leadership to settle on a bill and finally allow a vote.  (Notably, the FIRST STEP Act got 86% approval when it got to a vote in the House of Representatives, so it seems informed legislators are even more supportive of federal reform than the poll numbers.) 

This piece by Holly Harris highlights just why passage of federal criminal justice reform could be a huge win for this Administration, and I hope Prez Trump sees the potential political value to pushing reform over the finish-line.  Presidents always have unique powers and unique opportunities to grease the legislative process, and a congressional reform discussion that has been going strong for now five years with no tangible results can certainly uses as much grease as it can get. 

Some of many prior recent related posts:

UPDATE: I have just added to the title of this post after seeing this new Politico piece headlined "Criminal justice deal faces steep Senate hurdles despite Trump’s push."  Here is an excerpts that has me thinking reform does not get done unless and until the Trump White House puts all its might behind the effort:

Trump has stepped up his own calls for a deal on the prisons overhaul that the House passed earlier this year, holding two events so far this month.  And groups off the Hill say they're closing in on a path to pass the legislation through the Senate by adding some of the sentencing changes Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spent years negotiating with Democrats.

But interviews with a dozen GOP senators show that those talks remain in a precarious state.  That’s because the handful of Republicans who have long protested reducing mandatory-minimum sentences leave Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) without any incentive to call up legislation that would split his conference.

One of those longtime critics of adding sentencing to the House-passed prisons bill bluntly predicted Thursday that McConnell would not “bring the bill to the floor any time soon.”

“I’m not sure that we can put together a deal,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said in an interview. “I’m not sure we should.”...

Close involvement from Trump will likely be required for the GOP to get past its internal schism over reducing mandatory minimum sentences as part of a prisons package. Grassley's bipartisan package of sentencing and prison reforms boasts 15 Republican cosponsors, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes even the narrower prisons-only approach the House has passed.

August 17, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)