Thursday, December 05, 2019

"Who should oversee implementing the First Step Act?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse introduce RE-ENTER Act to enable federal judges to issue "Certificate of Rehabilitation" to former offenders

As detailed in this press release, "U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced the Recognizing Education, Employment, New Skills, and Treatment to Enable Reintegration (RE-ENTER) Act, which would allow federal judges to issue a Certificate of Rehabilitation to acknowledge an eligible offender who has successfully reintegrated into society." Here is more about this interesting legislative news via the release:

These certificates can help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs and housing and help prospective employers or landlords determine whether an applicant has been rehabilitated. "Reformed offenders who have served their time have the best chance of staying out of trouble and becoming productive members of society if they can secure a foothold in a job and find housing," said Sen. Whitehouse. "Our bill would follow the successful example set by states that vet people with criminal records to determine whether they have earned a Certificate of Rehabilitation."

“Most incarcerated individuals will be released at some point, and we need to encourage them and give them every tool necessary to be productive members of society,” said Sen. Cornyn. “The housing benefits and job opportunities that these certificates can help make available to former inmates will help us ensure that those who get out of prison will stay out of prison.”

Background:

In at least 16 states and the District of Columbia, state court judges have the power to issue certificates of rehabilitation to address the impact of state convictions. These certificates signal that a recipient has successfully reintegrated into society and no longer poses a significant risk of reoffending. Just like with the First Step Act, Congress can learn from states’ success.

Additionally, this legislation would:

  • Allow eligible offenders to petition the appropriate district court for a certificate;
  • Direct courts to consider various factors to determine whether a certificate is appropriate, including the crime of conviction, activities and education, efforts at employment and restitution, and other current conditions;
  • Permit federal prosecutors to weigh in with the district court and allows courts to appoint federal public defenders to assist the petitioner;
  • Require federal agencies and courts to consider the certificate when making housing, benefits, and eligibility determinations for other programs;
  • And express the sense of Congress that a certificate should help former inmates with licensing, housing, and employment determinations, protect employers who hire recipients of certificates, and contribute to pardon and clemency efforts.
In addition to Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Joni Ernst (R-IA).
The bill is endorsed by Prison Fellowship, the National District Attorneys’ Association, #Cut50, Americans for Prosperity, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, and the Justice Action Network.

Here is the full legislation and a one-pager for downloading:

November 21, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Federal court finds First Amendment violated by sheriff's plan to place signs of sex offender homes on Halloween

A helpful reader spotlighted a new notable federal court ruling dealing with one example of how some local law enforcement officials sometimes use the Halloween holiday to single out registered sex offenders.  This local newspaper story, headlined "Judge sides with sex offenders in ‘no trick-or-treating’ fight," reports on the basics:

A federal judge on Tuesday said a Georgia sheriff’s plan to post “no trick-or-treating” signs at sex offenders’ homes was unconstitutional.

The ruling comes after three registered sex offenders sued Butts County Sheriff Gary Long to stop his office from the practice, which began last year with deputies planting signs that urged Halloween revelers against stopping. Deputies put up some of the signs while others among the county’s 200 registered sex offenders were told to display one themselves or face unspecified trouble, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell’s order applies only to the three plaintiffs, meaning it wouldn’t stop the sheriff’s office from placing signs at other registered sex offenders’ homes. But the judge said Long’s legal authority to place the signs was “dubious at best.”

The sheriff disagreed with the ruling but said he’d abide by it. He said he had deputies put the signs up last year because a popular trick-or-treating event on the square in downtown Jackson was cancelled, leading to an increase in door-to-door visits.

“While the vast majority of us may disagree with the Judge’s ruling, I strongly encourage you to NOT take matters into your own hands this Halloween,” Long wrote on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is no time to appeal before this Halloween.”

Treadwell said the three men who sued are “by all accounts” rehabilitated and living law-abiding lives.“Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children,” the judge wrote. “The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.”

The sheriff’s plan to place the signs “run afoul” of the First Amendment because it compels the men to display the message even though they disagree with it. The sheriff said he’d sought legal advice in 2018 before placing the signs and believed it was appropriate.

The full 25-page ruling is available at this link, and here is its introduction:

The Plaintiffs are sex offenders. That is because many years ago they committed offenses that fall within the State of Georgia’s definition of sex offenses.  Since then, they have served their terms of imprisonment and have, as far as the law is concerned, paid their debts to society.  But because they have been classified as sex offenders, they remain subject to Georgia’s lifelong requirement that they register with their local sheriff. But by all accounts, they are rehabilitated.  They live productive, lawabiding lives.  Two of the named Plaintiffs live with their parents; one has a six-year-old daughter living with him.  The State of Georgia, under its system for classifying sex offenders, has not determined that they pose an increased risk of again committing a sexual offense.

Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children.  The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.  Rather, the Sheriff’s decision is based solely on the fact that the Plaintiffs’ names remain on Georgia’s registry of sex offenders.  Further, Sheriff Long plans, as he has in the past, to ban the Plaintiffs from expressing their disagreement with the signs and the message the signs convey.

The Plaintiffs object and seek relief from this Court.  The question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff Long’s plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense.  Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It does.

October 31, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Philadelphia Inquirer provides detailed coverage of "The Probation Trap"

The local paper in the City of Brotherly Love has this important new series highlighting that the Keystone State is not very loving when it comes to how it treats people caught up in community supervision. The series is titled "The Probation Trap" and here is the subheading for the coverage: "Pennsylvania has one of the nation's highest rates of supervision, driven by unusual laws that leave judges unchecked.  But many people fail, ending up in jail or in a cycle of ever more probation." 

Here is some of the introduction explaining "The Problem with Probation":

In Pennsylvania, as across the country, crime rates have fallen to their lowest point in decades. But over that same time, the rate of incarceration in Pennsylvania state prisons and county jails nearly quadrupled, while the number on probation or parole also grew almost four times larger, to 290,000 people.

Counting jail, prison, probation, and parole, Pennsylvania now has the nation’s second-highest rate of people under correctional control. Probation and parole account for three-quarters of that — a phenomenon critics of mass incarceration call “mass supervision.”

Nationwide, one in 55 adults is on probation or parole. In Pennsylvania, that’s one in 35 adults. In Philadelphia: one in 23 adults.

African American adults in Philadelphia are disproportionately impacted. One in 14 is under supervision. Philadelphia’s county supervision rate is the highest of any big city — and 12 times the rate of New York City. ‍

What’s driving this? To find answers, we watched hundreds of hearings, interviewed scores of people, and analyzed 700,000 case dockets from 2012 to 2018.

What we found is a system virtually ungoverned by law or policy, resulting in wildly disparate versions of justice from one courtroom to the next.

We found a system that routinely punishes poverty, mental illness, and addiction. We met a woman who was jailed two months for failing to report to probation because she wasn’t permitted to bring her newborn child and couldn’t afford a babysitter. We met a man who was locked up because he didn’t have $227 to pay for a court-ordered drug evaluation.

As a result, some people remain under court control for years after being convicted of low-level crimes, resentenced two, three, four, or five times over for infractions including missing appointments, falling behind on payments, or testing positive for marijuana. Probation and parole violations are flooding the court system, filling city jails and driving up state prison populations.

Many other states, recognizing similar problems, have reformed their systems. Can Pennsylvania?

Here are the main articles in the series:

"Living in Fear:  Probation is meant to keep people out of jail. But intense monitoring leaves tens of thousands across the state at risk of incarceration."

"Judges Rule: When it comes to probation, Pennsylvania has left judges unchecked to impose wildly different versions of justice."

"Punishing Addiction: Courts recognize substance-use disorder is a disease. Yet some judges continue punishing relapse with ever-longer probation and even prison."

October 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Many Colorado sentences now uncertain after court ruling precluding imposition of imprisonment for certain offenses and probation for others

A helpful reader alerted me to this interesting story from the Denver Post headlined "Hundreds of prisoners can seek new trials, freedom after Colorado Supreme Court rules sentences illegal." Here are the details of a shock being sent through the state's criminal justice system:

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled the sentences of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of criminal defendants serving time in Colorado prisons, some for violent sexual crimes, are illegal, giving many of them a renewed shot at freedom.

The court last month stunned the state’s judicial system when it ruled that defendants cannot be sentenced to both prison and probation for charges in the same case, deeming the sentences illegal and unenforceable.  The ruling applies to any defendant sentenced to prison followed by a probation term, and gives each the right to force prosecutors to start over.  Those already out of prison theoretically could request their plea deal be overturned, legal experts said.

“This is going to result in a ton of litigation,” defense attorney Scott Robinson said. “This appears clearly to go against what many defense lawyers and prosecutors have assumed to be true for years, that different types of sentences can be imposed on different charges in the same case.”

Prosecutors in at least four judicial jurisdictions, including Denver, have relied on the dual sentence as part of the plea agreement process, mostly for sex crimes where a defendant could be sentenced to an indeterminant number of years in prison and authorities wanted to ensure lifetime supervision should the defendant be released.

“My biggest concerns are that we can no longer do this and what do we do with those we’ve already done it to? What if they’re already in prison? Are they all released?” asked Mesa County District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein.  “If the sentence is invalidated, we could be back at square one, or worse.”

The high court’s decision is based on a 2014 Boulder County case in which a jury found Frederick Allman, 67, guilty of various theft and forgery crimes.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 10-year probation term that was to be concurrent with the parole he’d serve upon his release.  The Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision, said the 2015 sentence by District Judge Andrew Macdonald was illegal.  [The decision is available at this link.]

“…The determination that probation is an appropriate sentence for a defendant necessarily requires a concordant determination that imprisonment is not appropriate,” Justice Brian Boatright wrote in the court’s opinion issued Sept. 23. “The probation statute gives courts guidance and discretion in choosing to grant probation.  However, it requires a choice between prison and probation. … The legislature intended to allow courts to choose only one or the other.  Probation is an alternative to prison.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office has until Oct. 28 to file a petition for the court to re-hear the case.

The court’s decision primarily affects defendants who signed plea agreements, a number that could reach into the thousands as 95% of all criminal cases are settled with plea deals. Defendants convicted by a jury, as was Allman, would simply be resentenced since the jury verdict remains unchanged.

Prosecutors explain that a plea agreement would be handled differently than a guilty verdict because a defendant agreed to a specific outcome in exchange for the plea. Because the sentence is deemed illegal, defendants can rescind their original agreement. “If the sentence is invalidated, we would go back to reaffirm the plea agreement, or even start over,” Rubinstein said.

The Colorado District Attorney’s Council said a majority of the state’s 22 judicial districts won’t be affected, but at least four of them — 2nd (Denver), 18th (Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln), 20th (Boulder) and 21st (Mesa) — have used sentences that fit those under scrutiny.

Attorney Tom Carberry, who won an earlier appeal for a client with a similar illegal sentence, said he’s uncovered at least 56 other cases with illegal sentences, the majority of them sexual assaults.  Three others are drug cases and two involve economic crimes.  All are in Denver. “Each of these defendants has the right to a lawyer appointed at state expense,” Carberry said of the breath of the Supreme Court decision.  “That will run into the millions” of dollars.

Denver DA Beth McCann did not elaborate on the scope of the problem in her jurisdiction, but said she’d rather not have to find out.  “We are very supportive of the Colorado attorney general’s plan to ask the court to reconsider its decision,” McCann said in an emailed statement. “We are concerned that if the decision stands, it will significantly impact many cases that have already been resolved.”

Other prosecutors are also trying to determine what the decision will mean for them.  “This decision will have a significant impact, for offenders and victims,” Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in an emailed statement to The Post.  “A defendant could come back to court seeking a hearing to correct an illegal sentence, or file motions alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. For survivors of sexual assault, this decision will be particularly harmful because they thought the case was over and the outcome certain.”...

In the 18th Judicial District, hundreds of cases could be impacted, many of them involving children, some going back years, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Gallo, who heads the special victims unit that handles about 500 cases a year.  “For several years now, we’ve been pursuing resolutions where there were prison and probation components, trying to balance a punishment aspect and a longer supervisory aspect to the sentence,” Gallo said.  “I can’t even fathom the ultimate outcome of this decision, how many could be released, or its impact.  But more than half of our cases would be affected.”

Mesa County’s Rubinstein said although only about a half-dozen cases in his jurisdiction are affected, they are significant.  “The pleas would be invalidated, and it could be that a new offer is rejected,” Rubinstein said, noting prosecutors cannot change the terms of the agreement without beginning the case anew. “How does that work for a guy with five years in prison already.”  

Judges could theoretically say they’re not bound by the plea agreement and a defendant could take his chances with a new sentence, Rubinstein said. “(A judge) might think there’s been substantial time (in prison) and a judge won’t want to load up with additional punishment,” he said, “and the defendants might say they’ll take their chances with the judge.”  A good defense attorney, however, could find exploitable cracks, he said.  “They’ll look to see if the case is, perhaps, worse,” Rubinstein said.  “Witnesses move, they die, they don’t wish to participate. The chances of a trial could be better from their viewpoint.”

October 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Rounding up various accountings of FIRST STEP Act implementation realities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

"The Trouble with Reentry: Five Takeaways from Working with People Returning to Chicago from Prison"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the John Howard Association. Here is part of its executive summary: nbsp;

With political backing and public will, a new reentry system can and should be built.  A foundation is currently being laid through public-private partnerships that recognize the importance of meeting the basic needs of people leaving the justice system and going back to their communities. But for such a system to succeed, it ultimately must be grounded in the principle that“[t]he dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement.”

Over the last several months, John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) staff had occasion to learn from several young adults (all black men in their early twenties) as they attempted to navigate the world of reentry services, mandatory supervised release and reintegration back into impoverished communities in Chicago after being imprisoned for several years in both Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) youth centers and Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) adult prisons.  Our final impression from this experience is profound skepticism at the ability of the existing reentry framework to stem the continuous cycle of people exiting and returning to jail and prison. Both conceptually and in execution, reentry as a societal project — at least in its current incarnation — does not begin to adequately address even the most basic human needs (shelter, clothing, transportation, food, medication) of returning citizens.  That being said, we were moved and inspired by the patience, dedication and sacrifices of many on-the-ground direct service reentry workers and organizations that we encountered, who tirelessly work to triage and assist an onslaught of returning citizens with desperate needs— despite inadequate resources, unreliable funding streams, and myriad bureaucratic obstacles.

Following herein are some of JHA’s real-world observations made in the process of accompanying and, at times, endeavoring to assist people as they attempted to access critical reentry supports, resources and services following their release from prison.  These five key takeaways are based on our on the ground experience navigating reentry programs and opportunities with these young men shortly after their release from prison.  This list is in no way comprehensive or exhaustive.  Rather, it highlights just some of the more immediate, pressing needs and problems that the young men whom JHA met as they left prison experienced during their first few months after leaving prison.  There were also some bright, hopeful encounters along the way. In particular we met some extraordinary, persevering, compassionate, tireless reentry workers who are dedicated to assisting people returning from prison.  Our dive into the reentry process on the whole, however, illuminated some large gaps that exist for returning citizens trying to succeed.

October 18, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bold goal for the REFORM Alliance: "get 1 million people out of the criminal justice system in five years"

In this post earlier this year, I blogged about the celebrities and business leaders coming together to form the REFORM Alliance, which is committed to "dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system – starting with probation and parole."  I have long had great respect for the commitment and vision of this group, but I was especially exciting to see this press article discussion a bold goal for the Alliance.  The piece is headlined "Inspired by Meek Mill, Michael Rubin sets a goal: Get 1 million people out of the criminal justice system," and here are excerpts:

Michael Rubin first encountered the criminal justice system when he saw rapper Meek Mill sentenced to prison for a violation of his probation. “That was a life-changing moment for me," Rubin said.

Speaking at the B.PHL Innovation Festival in the Entercom media headquarters Tuesday, Rubin explained how that moment sparked a movement.  The billionaire entrepreneur made it his mission to get Mill out of prison and, following a massive public outcry and social media campaign (#FreeMeek), he was released after five months.

Now, Rubin and Mill, who have been close friends for years, are working to transform the criminal justice system. In January, Rubin and Mill founded The REFORM Alliance, a partnership of titans in the entertainment, sports and business worlds.  They’re focusing on disrupting the probation system, which oversees 180,000 people in Pennsylvania alone, according to federal figures.

The REFORM Alliance is pushing to change Pennsylvania law to reduce the number of years people can stay on probation and to ensure people can’t be sent back to prison for technical violations.  About one in four prison admissions nationwide are due to probation violations, according to a study by the Council for State Governments Justice Center.

Pennsylvania is just the first step for the REFORM Alliance.  Rubin said the organization’s nationwide mission is to get 1 million people out of the criminal justice system in five years.  Nationwide, there are more than 4.5 million on probation and parole. “One million is a gigantic number,” Rubin said.  But he added, “I’m going to be unrelenting until we accomplish that.”...

Rubin’s got the money and the message to make a difference.  He’s the founder and CEO of Kynetic, the firm which owns online retailers Fanatics, Rue La La and ShopRunner.  He’s also a partner of the Philadelphia 76ers and a minority owner of the New Jersey Devils.

He lined up heavy hitters to build REFORM.  Other founding partners include hip-hop superstar and entrepreneur Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Robert Smith, founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners and the richest black man in America.  Rubin tapped political activist Van Jones to serve as the CEO of REFORM.  The group now has more raised than $50 million and is working to convince lawmakers and voters of the need for change.

October 17, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Seeking fresh perspectives on reentry and recidivism challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

"Offline: Challenging Internet and Social Media Bans for Individuals on Supervision for Sex Offenses"

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

Tens of thousands of people across the United States are subject to bans on their Internet and social media access due to sex offense convictions.  This Article explains why, even for those on parole and probation, such bans are frequently over-broad, imposed on the wrong people, and are now ripe for challenge in light of the Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision in Packingham v. North Carolina

The first flaw with these bans is their mismatch between crime and condition.  They are imposed on individuals whose criminal records have no relation to online predatory activity or manipulation of minors.  The second flaw is their extreme over-breadth.  Rather than merely proscribing speech with minors or access to certain online forums, they cordon off the Internet itself, ostracizing offenders to an offline society.  While these flaws rendered Internet and social media bans constitutionally problematic before the Packingham decision, the Supreme Court’s imprimatur on free speech for individuals convicted of sex offenses could — and should — lead the way to future legal challenges of these bans.

October 8, 2019 in Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"Creating Model Legislative Relief For People With Past Convictions"

Download (26)The title of this post is the title of this notable recent report from the folks at the Alliance for Safety and Justice.  I highly recommend the report in full, and here is part of its executive summary:

Across the United States, popular support for criminal justice reform is at an all-time high. More and more Americans of all walks of life agree that the “tough-on-crime” era resulted in bloated, costly and ineffective corrections practices.  Today, everyday people and public officials across the political spectrum support a balanced approach to public safety — one that emphasizes crime prevention and rehabilitation to stop the cycle of crime.

As states re-examine their crime policies, it is critical to also review the lifetime impacts of criminal records in preventing full rehabilitation for millions of Americans.  Meaningful rehabilitation provides people that complete their sentences and remain crime-free redemption and full re-integration into the economy, our communities and civic society. Despite growing support for rehabilitation as a primary goal of corrections, few Americans will ever become rehabilitated because criminal records prevent inclusion.

More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record.  Long after they’ve paid their debts to society, many will find themselves caught in a labyrinth of legal prohibitions and barriers that have little to do with public safety.  These restrictions place undue burdens on millions of people and impose an invisible, life-long sentence that can make it difficult to get back to work, find housing, or support their families. These barriers can also make it harder—not easier—to stay out of the cycle of crime.

As a nation, we’ve only begun to grapple with the impacts of these barriers on our society.  These restrictions prevent, millions of people with past convictions from getting work, which in turn may lead to families in living in unstable housing or contribute to homelessness, and to millions of children growing up with parents that cannot fully contribute to their families, or our economy.

Some states have taken steps to limit the debilitating impacts of criminal records on economic productivity and family stability after a person’s time is served.  But most current law, policies and processes fall short of bringing widespread relief....

This brief offers guidelines for legislation that would begin to make rehabilitation meaningful and provide relief for people with past convictions so they can contribute to the economy and society as a whole....

The first step for policymakers interested in moving toward a more evidence-based, safety-centered legal model for removing the barriers imposed by past arrests or convictions is to ask key questions about how current laws, policies and practices are working.

October 2, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thoughtful commentary on the back-end realities and challenges of the criminal justice system

This week I have seen a number of important and thoughtful commentaries about important aspects of the back-end of modern criminal justice systems.  Here are two I recommend with brief excerpts:

From Joe Griffin and Arthur Rizer in the Tulsa World, "Probation and parole violations — often for technical offenses — are filling Oklahoma prisons, and it's time to do something about it":

A 2017 report drafted by the Council of State Governments shows roughly 24% of Oklahoma prison admissions were due to probation violations. That translates to roughly 3,000 people behind bars. Of those 3,000, more than half are in prison for a technical violation, such as staying out past curfew or missing a meeting. The annual cost to incarcerate these individuals is approximately $32 million.

If someone violates their terms of supervision, there should be consequences. Even more, if one poses a legitimate danger to the community, prison may be the best solution. But is sending a large number of individuals to prison who violate only the technical aspects of their supervision effective for public safety or fiscally responsible?

From J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr in the Detroit News, "Clean-slate legislation strengthens Michigan":

For years, Michigan has offered certain offenders a chance to set aside their criminal records through expungement. But this path has been long, narrow and rocky at best, so few people have been able to take advantage of it. Now, the state Legislature is considering adopting a package of new bills to expand set-aside access. We strongly urge it to do so.

We recently conducted a major study of the effects of Michigan’s set-aside procedure. We found that while very few people with records get set-asides, those who do have great outcomes. In particular, we find that expungement is associated with large improvements in employment opportunities. Wages increase by close to 25% in just a year as people who had been unemployed became able to find stable work.

We also find nothing to suggest that granting someone a set-aside puts the public at risk, as skeptics have sometimes suggested. Those who receive set-asides are less likely to commit a new crime than the general adult population of Michigan. The rate of serious or violent re-offending is almost zero.

UPDATE: I just saw this AP article in this same vein headlined "Prosecutor aims to help people clear records of drug crimes." It starts this way:

Thousands of people in Utah’s largest county would be able to clear their records of drug crimes under a push announced Tuesday that advocates say goes further than many similar efforts around the nation.

The move by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, which is expected to be approved by a judge, could make about 12,000 people eligible to expunge their records and remove obstacles to getting jobs, housing and education, he said. “Having a criminal record is the modern-day equivalent of being forced to wear a scarlet letter,” Gill said. “If we’re going to have any meaningful reform, we must first make sure when you have paid your debt to society these barriers are eliminated.”

The push comes amid a wave of criminal justice reforms in the U.S. A number of states and cities have moved to allow people with marijuana-related convictions to clear their records in places where the drug has been legalized.

In Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, the GOP-dominated Legislature has passed a law allowing many misdemeanor crimes to be automatically expunged for people who stay out of trouble for a set period.

The move by Gill, a Democrat, would turn thousands of felony convictions into misdemeanors, allowing them to be automatically wiped away when the new state law goes into effect next year.

The plan goes further than many reforms elsewhere in the country because it includes a wide range of drug-related convictions, some dating back two decades, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the group Fair and Just Prosecution, which works with prosecutors around the country on criminal justice reform. The Utah effort is extraordinary, she said. Gill’s office sorted through drug-related convictions from 1997 through 2015, looking for people with misdemeanors and low-level drug possession felonies who had stayed out of trouble for at least five years.

September 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Honoring the second annual "National Expungement Week"

NEW2019_Flyer_No_Citiesv1_Square1080Today begins, as detailed here, the second annual "National Expungement Week" running until September 28.  I have been excited and proud to play a small role in these important activities by helping identify law students to participate in a local record sealing clinic.  (Applicable law in Ohio allows for only a very few types of criminal convictions to be expunged, but a much larger number of convictions are subject to sealing.) 

Notably, Columbus is not shown among the more than two dozen localities listed here as having expungement week events; I suspect and sincerely hope  there may be many other places with expungement-related activities taking place this week.  This Forbes article, headlined "Second Annual National Expungement Week (N.E.W.) Helps People Clear Criminal Records," provides these additional details:

A coalition of more than three dozen organizations working at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity, and reparative justice, led by Equity First Alliance and Cage-Free Repair, conceived the week to highlight the need to fully integrate those disenfranchised by the war on drugs within their respective communities.

Events to be featured throughout the week include free clinics to help remove, seal, or reclassify eligible convictions from criminal records (depending on local legislation), as well as provide expungement education workshops and complimentary services.

N.E.W. events have inspired teams of attorneys, organizers, and activists nationwide to continue to increase expungement opportunities where possible, with over 40 events scheduled to take place throughout the week.

Cities featuring participating events have nearly doubled from 16 in 2018 to 30, including major hubs such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

And this Rolling Stone article, headlined "Seth Rogen Details How to Clear Your Criminal Record in New PSA," highlights a notable celebrity contributing to the effort.

Long-time readers should recall my old article, titled "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," which includes discussion of various legal and practical barriers that can often unduly limit the ability of individuals to break away from the collateral consequences of long-ago minor criminal convictions.  I call this article "old" because, though published less than 18 months ago, there has been dramatic improvement in the efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of past marijuana convictions.

That said, my old article still includes a new and novel proposal: the creation of new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.  Special private-actor programming in the form of "National Expungement Week" can do great things, but the undue burdens of a criminal convictions are fundamentally a public problem in need of a public institutional solution.

September 21, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Study suggests outdoor community service especially effective at reducing recidivism

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Major coverage of the major challenges faced by those previously incarcerated

In the last day, I have seen a couple of notable articles in some major news outlets focused on the varied significant challenges facing formerly incarcerated persons as they seek to enter society.   Here they are with too-short excerpts:

From the New York Times, "Next Arena for Criminal Justice Reform: A Roof Over Their Heads":

Bipartisan efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, backed by President Trump, have so far focused on getting people out of prisons and thinning the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.... But once released, some formerly incarcerated people struggle simply to find a place to live.  Public housing authorities and private landlords refuse to rent to them, labeling them public safety risks, sending them to the streets, to homelessness — and often back to prison, for offenses like sleeping in public spaces and panhandling....

The issue has even reached the 2020 presidential race. Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic of California and a White House hopeful, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, released the Fair Chance at Housing Act, which would require public housing authorities and owners to consider all mitigating circumstances when making screening determinations based on criminal activity.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is also running for president, has proposed criminal justice measures that would help reduce the “collateral consequences that hamper re-entry to formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions to occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over three million returning citizens.”

From the Washington Post, "After prison, more punishment: They did their time. But as the formerly incarcerated reenter the workforce, will their past be held against them?":

Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions are defended as a way to protect the public.  But [Meko] Lincoln and others point out that the rules are often arbitrary and ambiguous. Licensing boards in Rhode Island can withhold licenses for crimes committed decades ago, by citing a requirement that people display “good moral character,” without taking into account individual circumstances or efforts toward rehabilitation.

Such restrictions make it challenging for the formerly incarcerated to enter or move up in fast-growing industries such as health care, human services and some mechanical trades, according to civil liberties lawyers and economists. These include the very jobs they’ve trained for in prison or in reentry programs like Lincoln’s.  And without jobs, many of those released could end up back in jail, experts say.

September 4, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Highlighting the need for community supervision to focus on rewarding success

Marc Levin has this new Hill commentary under the headline "Our justice system must reward success."  Here are excerpts:

Given that 4.5 million Americans are on community supervision, the question of how many of them no longer require government control has far-reaching implications, both from a government fiscal standpoint and societally.  Fortunately, policymakers are increasingly focused on creating standards for whether continued supervision is needed that focus not on the past, but on the future.  Since 2007, 18 states have implemented policies allowing individuals on probation to earn time for exemplary performance.

Robust earned time and early termination policies for community supervision have proven effective for both public safety and taxpayers who fund probation and parole agencies. In 2008, Arizona enacted a law giving people on probation 20 days credit for each month they make progress on their treatment plan and avoid new arrests.  In the subsequent two years, the number of people on probation convicted of new crimes substantially declined.

This is not surprising given that research reveals that most recidivism occurs during the initial part of the supervision period.  Multiple studies show that people are most likely to recidivate right after being released than at the end of their supervision.  Similarly, after New York City early terminated low-risk people on probation, they were less likely to be re-arrested for a new felony during their first year off supervision than similar individuals who had remained on supervision.

Moreover, removing people for whom monitoring isn’t likely to improve public safety from the supervision rolls frees up probation and parole officers to supervise those who are at greater risk of committing a new crime.  This means these officers can do more than shuffle the files of 100 people on their caseload and instead provide interventions such as motivational interviewing that addresses the attitudes and behaviors of those most at risk to recidivate.

Despite the progress some jurisdictions have made in providing incentives for success and focusing supervision on those who need it, many others do not allow earned time or early termination.  Additionally, excessive supervision periods remain, ranging from up to 40 years on probation for some in Minnesota to lifetime parole sentences in Nebraska.

When it comes to community supervision, we must focus on how well the system achieves rehabilitation, not on maximizing its duration.  Let’s reward success by allowing people to demonstrate they are not a threat and earn their way off supervision.  Intensive supervision has a place for those most at risk of going back to their old ways, but in many cases, government can accomplish more by doing less.

August 28, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Shaming and handwriting requirements in sentencing for offenders who falsely claimed to be veterans

As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Montana Men Get Writing Assignment for False Military Claims," a local judge in Montana created a notable set of additional requirements in the sentencing of two defendants who sought the wrong path to leniency.  Here are the details:

Two Montana men who were sentenced to prison for violating the terms of the probation in separate crimes won't be eligible for parole until they complete a writing assignment given because they falsely claimed to have served in the military to have their cases moved to a Veterans Court.

Cascade County District Judge Greg Pinski sentenced Ryan Patrick Morris, 28, and Troy Allan Nelson, 33, on Friday. Morris got 10 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation for felony burglary, while Nelson got five years on a drug possession conviction. Pinski suspended three years of each defendant's sentence.

Before they can be eligible for parole, Pinski ordered both men to hand write the names of all 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; write out the obituaries of the 40 Montanans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and send hand-written letters of apology to several veterans groups identifying themselves as having lied about military service to receive help and possibly a lesser sentence through a Veterans Court....

Morris claimed in 2016 he did seven combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, had PTSD and had his hip replaced after being injured by an improvised explosive device. He was sentenced to perform 441 hours of community service with a veteran's organization — one for each Montanan killed in combat since the Korean War. Court records said he only completed 10 hours.

Nelson managed to get himself enrolled in the Veterans Treatment Court before it was determined he hadn't served in the military, the Great Falls Tribune reported. Once released from prison, they must perform 441 hours of community service.

Pinski also ordered that during the suspended portions of the sentences the defendants must stand at the Montana Veterans Memorial in Great Falls for eight hours on each Memorial Day and Veterans Day wearing a placard that says: "I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans."

Attorneys for both men objected to the placard condition.... Pinski said he was punishing the men for lying to the court. He also cited Montana Supreme Court rulings that give him discretion to take the stolen valor into account and others that upheld the placard requirements.

August 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Making the case for the Fair Chance Act of 2019

John Malcolm and Brett Tolman have this notable new Daily Signal commentary under the headline "A Bill to Give Former Inmates a Second Chance." The lengthy piece is worth the full read, and here are excerpts:

Congress is currently considering the Fair Chance Act of 2019, a bill designed to increase the odds that formerly-incarcerated individuals can get jobs upon their release and prove to the world that they’ve turned a new leaf and are prepared to be law-abiding, productive citizens.  Although hardly a panacea, the bill has a lot of merit and is worthy of serious consideration by Congress....

It is, of course, incredibly important to provide people with the skills they need to become productive workers and to stay on the straight and narrow upon release from prison. But it may all be for naught if no employer will give those formerly-incarcerated individuals a job.  Gainful employment is a key factor for reducing recidivism, as numerous studies have shown.

That’s what led the president to launch his Second Chance Hiring initiative back in June. The president noted that “[t]oo often, former inmates are not considered for jobs even if they’re qualified, rehabilitated, and ready to work.”  He went on to announce the administration was “taking crucial steps to encourage business to expand second chance hiring practices.”  In similar fashion, it is this very issue that the Fair Chance Act seeks to address.

Just how bad is the problem?  Extremely bad.  In 2014, the FBI estimated that 77.7 million individuals — nearly one-third of the people living in this country — had a criminal record, with 10,000 to 12,000 names being added each day, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Even this startling statistic might understate the extent of the problem.  A 2012 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of state criminal records determined that over 100 million people living in the United States and its protectorates have a criminal record.

Moreover, the unemployment rate for those with a criminal record is particularly high.  In 2008 (the last year for which such data is available), the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals was 27.3% — over five times the unemployment rate for the general population.

No doubt, others with arrest records or who were convicted of crimes but never incarcerated struggle to find jobs, too. A 2009 study by Princeton and Harvard researchers indicated that those who check the box on a job application indicating they have a criminal record are 50% less likely to receive a callback than those who do not check the box.

That’s where the Fair Chance Act comes in.  With certain exceptions, the bill would require the federal government and federal contractors to “ban the box” as part of their hiring practices.  This would prevent a prospective employer from conducting a criminal background check or otherwise inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until such time as a conditional job offer is extended.  Once an offer is made, the employer can then conduct the criminal background check as needed....

The purpose of “ban the box” policies is not to prevent an employer from making the ultimate decision about whether to hire somebody with a criminal record.  The point of such policies is to give someone with a criminal record the opportunity to get a foot in the door and impress a would-be employer with his or her job-related skills during the interview process.  Presumably, if the employer is impressed enough to extend a conditional job offer, the employer will be more likely to engage in a productive conversation with the applicant and ultimately hire him upon learning that he has a criminal history.

Too often, the applications of those who check the criminal record box are immediately discarded, despite the fact that many such applicants may genuinely be contrite about what they have done and be prepared to work exceptionally hard to prove to their employers and to the rest of the world that they deserve another chance.

Many states and localities have already adopted “ban the box” hiring procedures, as have some of the nation’s largest employers, such as Home Depot, Walmart, Starbucks, Target, and Koch Industries.

There are some potential concerns with the bill, however.  While banning the box may be a good idea from a moral perspective and even a business strategy, we generally disfavor imposing new requirements on private employers.  Admittedly, the bill would apply only to employers who seek to become government contractors. And again, there’s nothing in the bill that would prevent would-be employers, including those seeking to become government contractors, from ultimately obtaining the criminal history of applicants and deciding whether to go forward and hire an individual with a criminal record.

The Fair Chance Act is by no means a cure-all.  For instance, out of the nearly 45,000 collateral consequences identified by the Council of State Governments that are frequently imposed on individuals who have been convicted of a crime, a substantial majority of them are employment related.  These collateral consequences can pose a significant impediment to formerly incarcerated individuals — as if they didn’t have enough impediments already—when it comes to obtaining gainful employment.

Moreover, a multitude of other occupational licensing laws explicitly or implicitly exclude formerly incarcerated individuals from obtaining licenses to enter certain professions because they are deemed to lack “good moral character.”  The Fair Chance Act would do nothing to ameliorate this problem.... Nonetheless, there are many positives to consider in the Fair Chance Act, and it is good to see Congress looking for ways to address this serious problem.

The bottom line is that people cannot be permanently marginalized and made to feel like second-class citizens.  Released offenders have a difficult enough time as it is.  If people are pushed into the corner and denied opportunities for gainful employment for too long, they will have little choice but to recidivate, which means wasted lives, ruined families, and more crime.  That is not in anybody’s best interests.

August 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 09, 2019

Bold effort by reform advocates to get federal Fair Chance Act enacted via defense bill

This piece from The Hill, headlined "Advocates ramp up pressure on criminal justice measure," explains how and why criminal justice reform advocates have a bold strategy to get additional federal reforms into law expeditiously.  Here are the interesting details:

A coalition of advocacy groups is ramping up pressure on lawmakers to include criminal justice legislation in a must-pass defense bill. The push comes as staffers and lawmakers are expected to informally start merging the House and Senate National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) during the August recess.

The House-passed NDAA includes the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about a job applicant's criminal history before making a conditional offer of employment. The Senate's defense bill doesn't include the legislation.

Supporters are rolling out a new poll, obtained exclusively by The Hill ahead of its release, showing most Americans support the ideas behind the Fair Chance Act.

The poll — conducted by GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Justice Action Network, a coalition of outside groups supporting the bill — found that 83 percent of voters say they would support a proposal that allows employers to conduct background checks "but not until after applicants have had a chance to share their skills and qualifications."...

"We've shown overwhelming public support, the administration has shown its support, and now we just need the Senate to include the amendment," said Holly Harris, the executive director of Justice Action Network. She added that she's "really hopeful that the leaders and those negotiating the bill will see both the policy value and the political value."...

The push to include the legislation in the NDAA comes as lawmakers are out of Washington until September. When they return, they'll have a packed floor schedule, including funding the government by Oct. 1 to prevent a second shutdown.

Jason Pye, the vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, noted that putting the criminal justice measure in the mammoth defense bill prevents it from having to compete with other items on the Senate's agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to prioritize nominations and appropriations when making decisions about the chamber's limited floor time in the fall. "The House could pass Fair Chance and send it over to the Senate and absent the White House saying 'hey McConnell, please take up this bill,' he's not going to do it," Pye said.

Neither the House nor Senate have named which senators will be on the conference committee that will ultimately sign off on the final version of the defense bill. In one potential hurdle to the Fair Chance Act, Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) both asked to be recorded as "no" on the measure when it passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year. They are both members of the Armed Services Committee, making it possible that they end up on the NDAA conference committee.

The criminal justice bill comes after Congress passed long-stalled sentencing and prison reform legislation in late 2018. The bill had wide bipartisan support, but had stalled for years until President Trump threw his support behind it and publicly urged McConnell to give it a vote.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who is sponsoring the Fair Chance Act in the House along with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said he hopes the Fair Chance Act makes it into the NDAA. "The Fair Chance Act builds off the success of the First Step Act and goes one step further by helping rehabilitated men and women gain meaningful employment nationwide," he said. "This bill has the potential change lives and help communities everywhere by reducing recidivism and bringing hope to families from coast to coast.”

August 9, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Notable Govs make the case for pressing forward with additional criminal justice reforms

Jerry Brown, former governor of California, and Matt Bevin, current governor of Kentucky, have this new Hill commentary under the headline "The US has barely scratched the surface on criminal justice reform."  Here are excerpts:

In these highly polarized times, our nation is awash in loud and public fights about immigration, health care, global warming, and other daunting challenges. Criminal justice used to be on that list of divisive topics.  But now Americans of nearly every political and demographic perspective agree — we need a public safety approach that works better and costs less.

As current and former governors who prioritize greater justice and safety, we believe this historic moment carries great opportunity, but even greater responsibility.  We must ensure that our momentum does not slip away, and we must push forward with nonpartisan purpose toward a criminal justice system worthy of our nation.

Our states of Kentucky and California are very different.  But we and other leaders across the country have coalesced around the principle that while people must be held accountable for breaking our laws, we cannot build our way to a safer society with ever-more prisons....

But while several dozen states and the federal government have made laudable progress, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all that must be done.  Taxpayers spend a quarter trillion dollars per year to arrest, try, sentence, and supervise the 7 million adults behind bars or on probation and parole.  Yet return-to-prison rates remain high, too many communities struggle with violence and substance abuse, and new technologies are increasing our vulnerability to cybercrime and other threats.

Fortunately, we know a lot more about what works in criminal justice than we did 40 years ago, when our nation began an incarceration boom that has exacted a heavy toll, in both fiscal and human costs.  While there are no magic bullets, research has spotlighted effective strategies to stop the cycle of reoffending and better equip people leaving prison to resume stable lives....

We’ve witnessed the power of shifting political winds, and we know that, particularly with criminal justice reform, we must double down on our efforts and guard against backward-looking proposals that are borne of emotion or recycle failed ideas of the past.

August 6, 2019 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Effect of Public Health Insurance on Criminal Recidivism"

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 28, 2019

"After the First Step Act, we all have a role to play to build a society of second chances"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Fox News commentary authored by Craig DeRoche, who is the senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

FSA’s federal sentencing and prison system reforms still face key administrative and financial challenges.  Since May 2018, the Bureau of Prisons has lacked a permanent director.  The agency urgently needs a committed, effective leader to drive implementation of the reforms in the FSA. Five vacancies on the U.S. Sentencing Commission also mean that the sentencing reforms included in the FSA are yet to be incorporated into the sentencing guidelines used by federal judges.

In other significant ways, the FSA has yet to live up to its promise.  Evidence-based programming to reduce recidivism, a much-touted pillar of the bill, is not yet fully funded or implemented.  Further, the BOP has yet to allow faith-based prison programs with a proven record of recidivism-reduction, including Prison Fellowship, to function as reentry programs outside the chaplaincy.

As the largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners and their families, we urge Congress to exercise its oversight and budgetary powers to ensure this historic achievement in federal criminal justice reform does not falter before its potential is realized.  And the public must let Congress know how important it is that these reforms be implemented fully and without unnecessary delay.

Ultimately, it will not be Congress, the Bureau of Prisons, or the White House that must live with the successes or failures of the FIRST STEP Act.  It will be the families with a loved one in federal prison, the incarcerated men and women working toward their second chance, and the countless neighborhoods to which they return after release.

The Bureau of Prisons is the largest single prison system in the United States.  The men and women behind its bars, despite the choices that got them there, have great, untapped potential.  They can return to society as better citizens, neighbors, employees, moms and dads. And when these former prisoners succeed, crime rates go down.

But it will take the full implementation of the FSA, putting the tools for success in the hands of those who need them. And it will take all of us — employers, faith communities, social service organizations, and ordinary citizens — doing our part to come alongside government, advocating for continued reform and building a society of second chances.

FSA was never meant to be the last step toward criminal justice reform.  Rather, in a time of marked political division, it is the first milestone, reminding us all what is possible when we choose to walk the path of restoration together.

July 28, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"Who’s helping the 1.9 million women released from prisons and jails each year?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this new Prison Policy Initiative publication.  Here is an excerpt (with links from the original):

As in other stages of the criminal justice system, most post-release policies and programs were created with the much larger male population in mind.  But research makes clear that women returning home have “a significantly higher need for services than men,” and that reentry supports should be responsive to the particular needs of justice-involved women:

  • Economic marginalization and poverty: As we’ve previously shown, formerly incarcerated women (especially women of color) have much higher rates of unemployment and homelessness, and are less likely to have a high school education, compared to formerly incarcerated men. These findings help explain why, in a 2012 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study, 79% of women interviewed 30 days pre-release cited “employment, education, and life skills services” as their greatest area of need (followed closely by transition services). An earlier study (Holtfreder et al., 2004), found that poverty is the strongest predictor of recidivism among women, and “providing state‐sponsored support to address short‐term needs (e.g., housing) reduces the odds of recidivism by 83%” for poor women on probation and parole.

  • Housing: A 2017 Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) report identified homelessness and the lack of stable housing as the biggest problem facing women in the New York City justice system, noting that 80% of women at Rikers said they needed assistance finding housing upon discharge. A 2006 California study found that 75% of formerly incarcerated women surveyed had experienced homelessness as some point, and 41% were currently homeless. Women who can’t secure safe housing may return to abusive partners or family situations for housing and financial reasons – a point echoed in interviews with paroled women in a study by Brown and Bloom.

  • Trauma and gendered pathways to incarceration: The PRI report emphasizes the importance of gender-responsive and trauma-informedinterventions for reducing recidivism among women. According to that report, such interventions should: provide a safe, respectful environment; promote healthy relationships; address substance use, trauma, and mental health issues; provide women with opportunities to improve their socioeconomic conditions; establish “comprehensive and collaborative” community services; and prioritize women’s empowerment.

  • Family reunification: Most incarcerated women are mothers, and are frequently the primary caretakers of their children. The importance of family reunification – noted throughout the literature, by Carter et al.(2006), Brown and Bloom (2009), Wright, et al. (2012), the NIJ (2012), among others – cannot be overstated, especially given the trauma experienced by children when separated from a parent.

July 23, 2019 in Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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

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

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

"The First Step Act of 2018: Risk and Needs Assessment System"

The title of this post is the title of this all-important 102-page document which was required by the FIRST STEP Act and was delivered on time by US Attorney General William Barr.  Here is the document's introduction:

On December 21, 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed the First Step Act of 2018 into law.  Title I of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA or the Act) is focused on reforms to reduce recidivism among the federal prison population.  Many of Title I’s reforms hinge on the creation of a risk and needs assessment system.

Under the FSA, the Attorney General is charged with developing and releasing a risk and needs assessment system for use in the federal prison system.  With this report, Attorney General William P. Barr releases the First Step Act of 2018 Risk and Needs Assessment System.

This report outlines the work of the Department of Justice to develop and implement the Risk and Needs Assessment System (System).  It also introduces the new System that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will deploy in its facilities.  And the report announces the Department of Justice’s strategic plan to evaluate, validate, and enhance the System over time.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1, Developing the First Step Act of 2018 Risk and Needs Assessment System, details the requirements of the FSA regarding the development of a risk and needs assessment system, including the responsibilities of the Attorney General and the Independent Review Committee.  This chapter also summarizes the Department of Justice’s work to fully implement the Act’s requirements in creating the System.

Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, Characteristics of an Effective Risk and Needs Assessment System, this report identifies those characteristics and principles that are fundamental to developing an effective risk and needs assessment system.  This chapter also describes the valuable data and information that the Department of Justice received from our federal and state partners and experts in the field on developing a strong risk and needs assessment system. These characteristics, principles, and data informed the development of the System.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3, Te First Step Act of 2018 Risk and Needs Assessment System, describes the adopted System in detail, including the new assessment tool that will be deployed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This chapter then provides an explanation of the strengths of the tool and enhancements offered by the new System.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4, Implementing the First Step Act of 2018 Risk and Needs Assessment System, presents the Department’s strategic plan to fully and completely implement the System in the field. It also includes an agenda for continued engagement with experts, stakeholders, and the public on the System. Te chapter concludes by describing the significant resources that the Department of Justice is expending and will expend to implement the System.

July 19, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

New Pew report spotlights state changes in community supervision and revocations

The folks from Pew have this notable new report fully titled "To Safely Cut Incarceration, States Rethink Responses to Supervision Violations: Evidence-based policies lead to higher rates of parole and probation success." Here is the document's "Overview":

Recent research from The Pew Charitable Trusts found that about 4.5 million people in the United States are on community supervision as of 2016.  Probation and parole provide a measure of accountability while allowing those who would otherwise have been incarcerated or have already served a term behind bars to meet their obligations to their families, communities, and victims.

People under supervision are expected to follow a set of rules, such as keeping appointments with probation or parole officers, maintaining employment, not using alcohol or other drugs, and paying required fees. Failure to follow the rules — referred to as technical violations—may result in revocation of the supervision and in some cases a term of incarceration.  A 2019 report by the Council of State Governments showed that technical violations account for almost 1 in 4 admissions to state prison and $2.8 billion in annual incarceration costs.

Such technical revocations are costly, and failure to comply with supervision conditions does not necessarily indicate that a person presents a public safety threat or will engage in new criminal activity.  Further, although studies have not demonstrated that incarcerating people for breaking the rules of supervision reduces recidivism, they have found that long periods of incarceration can make re-entry more difficult, causing people to lose their jobs, homes, and even custody of their children.

This brief examines policies that states implemented through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) that have reduced technical revocations, highlights some of the results of those changes, and provides sample legislation for each policy.  JRI is a public-private partnership among Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, state governments, and technical assistance providers; it seeks to improve public safety and control costs by prioritizing prison space for people sentenced for the most serious offenses and investing in evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and other programs shown to reduce recidivism.  These state efforts have not been without challenges, and more can be done to improve supervision outcomes.  Nevertheless, the examples provided show that states can take meaningful steps to reduce prison populations and protect public safety while strengthening systems of supervision and services in the community.

July 16, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Of note of late from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Regular readers know I regularly urge folks to regularly check out the work and commentary over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, and the last few weeks have brought a number of notable posts that seemed valuable to flag here:

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

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Friday, July 05, 2019

Emphasizing why community supervision realities must be focal point for criminal justice reforms

As noted in this post, last month the the Council of State Governments Justice Center produced this dynamic report spotlighting that a large percentage of all state prison admissions "are due to violations of probation or parole for new offenses or technical violations" and that "technical violations, such as missing appointments with supervision officers or failing drug tests, account"for almost a quarter of all state prison admissions.  Fittingly, I have recently seen two commentaries highlighting this CSG report to stress the importance of criminal justice reform efforts giving attention to this piece of the system.  Here are links to these pieces and a snippet therefrom:

From The Hill, "Want to cut the prison population?  Start by tackling probation reform" by Nila Bala:

Sadly, imprisoning technical violators often drives them even deeper into the criminal justice system. With a prison sentence, individuals can lose their jobs, their homes, and their children, which are all of the important social supports they had formed in their community, making them more likely to return to crime.  Imprisoning individuals for technical violations is also costing taxpayers to the tune of $2.8 billion in incarceration costs.

We should save prison beds for those who have committed serious and violent offenses instead of for those who have broken curfew or failed to pay a probation fee. Instead of imprisoning technical violators, we should hold them accountable in the community in ways that do not harm public safety.  By eliminating prison terms for technical violations, or at least by capping the length of their prison stays, states can work to reduce their prison numbers in a significant way.  Along with the reform of supervision conditions, we can work to limit probation to those who really need it and to divert the many lower risk individuals away from the system altogether.

If there is one foundational value that we can adopt in the criminal justice system to change its ethos, it is human dignity. It should not fall by the wayside when people are released from prison.  It is even more important as we welcome individuals back into the social fabric of our communities. The Council of State Governments report guides states in asking how they can limit the supervision to prison pipeline.  With this data, states hold the potential to reform their supervision practices in ways that improve public safety, yield valuable cost savings, and respect the human dignity of all.

From USA Today, "As candidates search for criminal justice talking points, parole and probation reform should top list" by Megan Quattlebaum and Juliene James:

Instead of moving people away from prison, the use of parole and probation is a prime contributor to still stubbornly high incarceration rates. This undermines people’s ability to reintegrate into a free society after conviction.

The nation can and should focus efforts and resources on reducing new criminal behavior. By keeping people out of prison, we can better ensure that they keep their jobs, stay connected to their families and have a fair chance at contributing to society.

The nation's probation and parole disproportionately burdens poor and minority communities. Black Americans account for more than 30% of the people on probation and parole, despite being only 13% of the U.S. population. How can we expect people to live successful lives when they’re under the constant scrutiny of unforgiving criminal justice supervision?

Red and blue states alike have prison systems that are straining under the weight of incarcerating significant numbers of people who have violated their supervision.

State lawmakers need to start looking at their own statistics and asking whether probation and parole are serving their intended goals. What types of new offenses are responsible for supervision revocations? What practices and programs can discourage people under supervision from committing new crimes? What is a better way to handle technical violations?

A few prior recent related posts:

July 5, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

"Language matters for justice reform"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent Hill commentary authored by Deanna Hoskins. I recommend the whole piece, and here is an excerpt:

Words such as offenders, convicts, prisoners and felons have existed in our lexicon for decades if not centuries.  But in recent years people have begun speaking out against the use of these dehumanizing terms.  Eddy Ellis, the late justice reform leader, penned a letter more than 15 years ago that ignited a movement demanding an end to dehumanizing language. He wrote, “The worst part of repeatedly hearing your negative definition of me is that I begin to believe it myself ‘for, as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ It follows, then, that calling me inmate, convict, prisoner, felon, or offender indicates a lack of understanding of who I am, but more importantly what I can be.”

Movement leaders have long-recognized Mr. Ellis’s call to use humanizing language — but journalists, elected officials, and people new to the field must recognize this and make the shift as well.  In some state corrections systems, offensive terms such as “inmate” and “offender” have been banned from prisons.  A few years ago, the Department of Justice Office of Justice program that oversees criminal justice efforts announced that it would no longer use the word felon or convict in any of its communications and grant solicitations, instead using “a person who committed a crime.”  Resources including Mr. Ellis’ letter, the Social Justice Phrase Guide and The Opportunity Agenda’s toolkit are readily available to help people understand humanizing “people-first” language and why it’s important.

When we no longer define someone in the media or other arenas as “other,” we shift culture and policies toward human rights and dignity.  By making a conscious effort to change, we can use language that addresses injustice without dehumanizing people — especially black and brown people facing disproportionate discrimination after a record. Several years ago racial justice advocates, successfully stopped media outlets such as the Associated Press from using the phrase “illegal immigrant” which implied that a person’s existence violated the law.  Doing so brought attention to the mistreatment and human rights violations experienced by immigrants seeking refuge in this country.

We can achieve the same in the justice space. We must all commit to using terms such as “formerly incarcerated or incarcerated person” or “person with a felony conviction” instead of “ex-con,” “felon,” or “inmate.”  By doing so we make a conscious effort to recognize and respect people’s humanity.  To do otherwise only reinforces the second-class status we relegate upon many people in this country and therefore stalls our efforts toward equal justice for all.

I am quite sympathetic to the spirit and substance of this commentary, but I fear I will continue to struggle to move away from short-hand terminology like offender and prisoner (rather than person who committed an offense or person in prison).  

July 3, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, On blogging, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 01, 2019

"Beyond the Algorithm Pretrial Reform, Risk Assessment, and Racial Fairness"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released by the Center for Court Innovation and authored by by Sarah Picard, Matt Watkins, Michael Rempel and Ashmini Kerodal. Here is its introduction: 

Pretrial detention, often resulting from a defendant’s inability to afford bail, is one of the primary drivers of incarceration nationwide. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that two out of three people in local jails in 2016 were held while awaiting trial, having not yet been convicted of a crime.  Jurisdictions looking to safely reduce their use of bail and pretrial detention have increasingly turned to automated or actuarial risk assessments.  These tools employ a mathematical formula, or algorithm, to estimate the probability of a defendant incurring a new arrest or failing to appear in court.  Typically, in a risk assessment, defendants’ criminal history, criminogenic needs, and/or basic demographic information, such as age and gender, are weighted and combined, generating a score which can be used to group defendants into risk categories ranging from low to high.

With the aid of better information about the defendants who appear before them, judges, in theory, can make more consistent decisions regarding pretrial release and bail.  For example, jurisdictions that use risk assessments may be more likely to consider pretrial release for defendants in lower-risk categories, or pretrial supervision in the community for higher-risk defendants.  In cases where victim or community safety is a concern, risk assessment may provide guidance regarding the need for bail or detention hearings.

The appeal of pretrial risk assessment — especially in large, overburdened court systems — is of a fast and objective evaluation, harnessing the power of data to aid decision-making.  Research suggests that actuarial risk assessments are more accurate than decisions made by criminal justice officials relying on professional judgment alone.  By intervening in a process historically driven by subjective decisionmaking, risk assessments arguably act as a corrective to a system plagued by bias, as witnessed in the racial disparities long seen in incarceration rates across the country.

That said, important objections have been raised that, far from disrupting racial biases in the criminal justice system, risk assessments unintentionally amplify them, only this time under the guise of science.  The debate is still unresolved, but from a justice system practitioner’s perspective — let alone that of a defendant — the stakes are urgent.

What follows are the results of an empirical test of racial bias in risk assessment and, based on an original analysis, a consideration of whether there are policy-level solutions that could conserve the benefits of risk assessment, while also addressing valid concerns over racial fairness.

July 1, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

"Recidivism of Felony Offenders in California"

The title of this post is the title of this intricate new report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Here is part of the report's summary:

California has undertaken numerous corrections reforms in the past decade — including public safety realignment in 2011 and Proposition 47 in 2014 — in hopes of reducing the prison population, maintaining public safety, and improving persistently high recidivism rates.  These reforms lowered incarceration levels, and in their aftermath, crime rates have fluctuated.  Recidivism rates provide another important window into public safety and the effectiveness of correctional interventions under these policy changes.

For the first time, this report provides recidivism rates for all types of felony offenders in California — including those sentenced to prison, jail only, jail followed by probation, or probation only.  Previously, statewide recidivism outcomes could only be tracked for individuals leaving prison custody.  This study draws on unique data from 12 representative counties, allowing us to estimate two-year recidivism rates for felony offenders released in the four years following realignment from October 2011 to October 2015.  We focus on felony offenders to provide insight into outcomes for those who have been convicted of more severe offenses.

Our analysis of recidivism relies on rearrest and reconviction rates, which are often used to capture changes in reoffending in response to a policy change.  However, it is important to note that these rates may also reflect changes in the practices of criminal justice agencies.  For example, if a policy change led to a shift in policing strategies, such as reduced enforcement for drug possession offenses, we may observe changes in rearrest rates even if there is no change in the underlying behavior of former offenders. We find:

  • Overall recidivism rates have declined for felony offenders. The share of felony offenders rearrested for any offense within two years declined somewhat from 68 percent to 66 percent over the four-year period.  The two-year reconviction rate for any offense dropped substantially from 41 percent to 35 percent.
  • Reductions in recidivism rates were largest for felony offenses. The share of offenders rearrested for a felony offense decreased moderately from 56 percent to 53 percent in the four years after realignment. The felony reconviction rate dropped markedly from 30 percent to 22 percent.  These reductions were concentrated in later years and may be linked to Proposition 47.
  • Rearrest rates for felony offenses increased toward the end of the period. When we examine the last several months for which we have data, we see that 50 percent of individuals released in June 2015 were rearrested for felonies within two years, compared with 53 percent for those released in October 2015....
  • Individuals released from prison had the highest reconviction rates. This group also served the longest and most costly incarceration terms. This finding is consistent with previous research that has found little evidence linking more severe sanctions to lower recidivism.
  • Recidivism rates are likely to be related to multiple factors. Offender behavior is one factor. But policy changes can also play a role in that they may affect the practices of criminal justice agents, such as police officers and district attorneys. More and better data are needed to pinpoint the relevant causes of changes in recidivism.

Additional efforts to improve our understanding of the relationships among policy, implementation, and recidivism outcomes are essential to move the state toward a more evidence-based criminal justice system.  Facilitating better data connections across correctional institutions, intervention programs, and law enforcement would help further the state’s goals of improving public safety, reducing costs, and ensuring equity in its correctional systems.

June 29, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Testing Periods and Outcome Determination in Criminal Cases"

The title of this post is the title of this important new article authored by Fiona Doherty and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Article introduces the concept of “Testing Periods” to explain how U.S. courts sort criminal defendants for incarceratory and non-incarceratory results. A Testing Period is a time period during which a criminal defendant agrees to abide by a set of prospective rules (such as avoiding “dirty urines” and remaining “clean” from drugs and alcohol), typically, but not always, as a function of plea bargaining.  Prosecutors and judges set the rules, and defendants must demonstrate that they can follow the rules to pass the test and successfully avoid prison.  Juries play no role in the system, and due process requirements diverge sharply from traditional norms.

The outcomes of most criminal cases are now determined through Testing Periods, which go by varied names like probation, problem-solving courts, suspended sentences, conditional plea agreements, and deferred adjudication.  The pervasiveness of Testing Periods has changed the orientation of outcome determination in criminal cases away from a retrospective analysis to a prospective one: Outcomes no longer depend on a backward-looking examination of the facts of a criminal charge, but instead on whether a defendant can pass a forward-looking test.  The power to create and administer Testing Periods has become the power to determine who goes to prison and for what reason.  The Article concludes that the widespread use of Testing Periods has recreated dynamics from a much older method of resolving criminal cases: the testing models used in the medieval ordeal system to separate “clean” defendants from “dirty” ones, and the “worthy” from the “unworthy.” 

June 19, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

White House promotes efforts to provide job opportunities for former prisoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Commission on Civil Rights releases big report on "Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities"

Download (29)The US Commission on Civil Rights has today released this huge new report titled "Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities."  The report runs over 150 pages and provide a comprehensive modern accounting of collateral consequences along with reform recommendations.  The introductory letter from the Commission Chair at the outset of the report provide this summary:

This report provides an overview of the relevant data and arguments for and against the imposition of collateral consequences on people with criminal records.  Each year, federal and state prisons release more than 620,000 people to return to their communities.  While these individuals have often completely exited criminal supervision (for example, through a prison sentence or probation), individuals with criminal records still face potentially thousands of collateral consequences upon reentering society.  These collateral consequences are sanctions, restrictions, or disqualifications that attach to a person because of the person’s criminal history.  For example, individuals with criminal histories can face barriers to voting, jury service, holding public office, securing employment, obtaining housing, receiving public assistance, owning a firearm, getting a driver’s license, qualifying for financial aid and college admission, qualifying for military service, and maintaining legal status as an immigrant.  The reach of each collateral consequence extends past people with criminal records to affect families and communities.

The Commission majority (six Commissioners in favor, one Commissioner in opposition) approved key findings including the following: Collateral consequences exacerbate punishment beyond the criminal conviction after an individual completes the court-imposed sentence.  Valid public safety bases support some collateral consequences, such as limitations on working with children for people convicted of particular dangerous crimes.  Many collateral consequences, however, are unrelated either to the underlying crime for which a person has been convicted or to a public safety purpose. When the collateral consequences are unrelated in this way, their imposition generally negatively affects public safety and the public good.

Evidence shows harsh collateral consequences unrelated to public safety increase recidivism by limiting or by completely barring formerly incarcerated persons’ access to personal and family support.  In addition, the general public, attorneys, and the courts often lack knowledge of what the totality of the collateral consequences are in their jurisdiction, how long they last, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory, or even if they are relevant to public safety or merely an extended punishment beyond a criminal sentence.  This absence of public and judicial awareness of collateral consequences of conviction undermines any deterrent effect that might flow from attaching such consequences, separate and apart from the punishment itself, to criminal convictions.  The processes people must undertake to restore rights, for example through applications for pardon or for judicial record sealing, are often complicated, opaque, and difficult to access.

The Commission majority voted for key recommendations, including the following: Collateral consequences should be tailored to serve public safety.  Policymakers should avoid punitive mandatory consequences that do not serve public safety, bear no rational relationship to the offense committed, and impede people convicted of crimes from safely reentering and becoming contributing members of society.  Jurisdictions that impose collateral consequences should periodically review the consequences imposed by law or regulation to evaluate whether they are necessary to protect public safety and if they are related to the underlying offenses.

The Commission majority specifically calls on Congress to limit discretion of public housing providers to prevent them from categorically barring people with criminal convictions from access to public housing; lift restrictions on access to student loans based on criminal convictions, except for convictions related to financial fraud; eliminate restrictions on TANF and SNAP benefits based on criminal convictions; and require federal courts to give comprehensive notice of federal restrictions on individuals’ rights before guilty plea entry, upon conviction, and upon release from incarceration.

June 13, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Educating everyone about the value of educating prisoners

I have noticed in the last few days and weeks a number of commentaries making the case for ensuring prisoners have access to educational opportunities while behind bars and explaining why Pell grants should be one way to help do so.  I recommend all of these pieces in full, and here I will just be content with a round up of headlines and links:

In addition, this local article from Utah -- headlined "Even violent inmates get out. Here’s why Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee and others think they should have access to college courses in prison." -- highlights why at least one notable Senator is eager to get prisoners access to Pell grants.

June 11, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 07, 2019

"Invisible Stripes: The Problem of Youth Criminal Records"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Judith McMullen. Here is its abstract:

It is common knowledge in American society that persons who have criminal records will have a more difficult path to obtaining legitimate employment.  Similarly, conventional wisdom acknowledges the unfortunate fact that young people, on average, are more prone to engage in risky, impulsive, and other ill-advised behavior that might result in brushes with law enforcement authorities.  This article addresses the difficult situation faced by people whose now disabling criminal records were attained while they were under the age of 21.  Not only do such individuals face stigma and possible discrimination from potential employers, the efforts of today’s young people to “go straight” are hampered by nearly unlimited online access to records of even the briefest of encounters with law enforcement, even if those encounters did not result in conviction.

This article examines the broad scope and troubling effects of the intersection between policies attempting to “reform” youthful offenders, and policies giving any curious citizen access to records about a person’s youthful indiscretions, no matter how minor.  The article concludes that current practices are inconsistent with what we know about the development of young people, are inconsistent with developing U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction, and are undermining the social goal of rehabilitating youthful offenders, and suggests that we need to restrict access to and use of information about contacts that offenders under the age of 21 have had with the criminal justice system.

June 7, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Critically reviewing how the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reviewed its sex offender recidivism data

Last week I blogged here about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' press release providing highlights of this big report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)."  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this notable new piece by Wendy Sawyer over at Prison Policy Initiative reacting to these documents.  This posting is fully titled "BJS fuels myths about sex offense recidivism, contradicting its own new data: A new government report reinforces harmful misconceptions about people convicted of sex offenses. Here's our take on how to parse the data."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics should put an end to this misconception: The report, Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-2014), shows that people convicted of sex offenses are actually much less likely than people convicted of other offenses to be rearrested or go back to prison.

But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the report’s press release and certain parts of the report itself, which reinforce inaccurate and harmful depictions of people convicted of sex offenses as uniquely dangerous career criminals.  The press release and report both emphasize what appears to be the central finding: “Released sex offenders were three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for a sex offense.” That was the headline of the press release.  The report itself re-states this finding three different ways, using similar mathematical comparisons, in a single paragraph.

What the report doesn’t say is that the same comparisons can be made for the other offense categories: People released from sentences for homicide were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for a homicide; those who served sentences for robbery were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for robbery; and those who served time for assault, property crimes, or drug offenses were also more likely (by 1.3-1.4 times) to be rearrested for similar offenses. And with the exception of homicide, those who served sentences for these other offense types were much more likely to be rearrested at all.

The new BJS report, unfortunately, is a good example of how our perception of sex offenders is distorted by alarmist framing, which in turn contributes to bad policy. That this publication was a priority for BJS at all is revealing: this is the only offense category out of all of the offenders included in the recidivism study to which BJS has devoted an entire 35-page report, even though this group makes up just 5% of the release cohort. This might make sense if it was published in an effort to dispel some myths about this population, but that’s not what’s happening here.

Prior related post:

June 6, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences: Exploring Moral Principles and Economic Innovations to Restore Rights and Opportunity"

C1_2019_Collateral_Consequences_Report_05172019_102_with_outline_RGBThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). Here is the report's executive summary:

On August 23–25, 2018, NACDL hosted its 17th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference and Presidential Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Conference — Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences: Exploring Moral Principles and Economic Innovations to Restore Rights and Opportunity — examined the destructive effect that a vast network of penalties, debarments, and disabilities following a criminal conviction has on the millions of people who have come in contact with the criminal justice system. The Conference also explored the disparate impact that these collateral consequences have on communities of color.  At the same time, the Conference highlighted the groundbreaking work that is helping people break free from the shackles while providing a roadmap for national reform.

NACDL’s Executive Director, Norman L. Reimer, described the path to reform as following the emerging consensus that we must restore humanity to our criminal justice system. In pursuit of that goal, the Conference included more than just criminal defense lawyers; it brought together a community of prosecutors, judges, formerly incarcerated people, probation officers, social workers, and activists.  The 60th President of NACDL, Drew Findling, welcomed this diverse group of Conference participants and attendees to “an incredible congregation of people [who] all care about one thing: justice.”  These common grounds of justice and humanity formed the basis and set the tone for the entire Conference.

To facilitate the human narrative of justice through shared stories and lived experiences, every panel at the Conference included at least one person who was previously incarcerated in America.  Most panels included more than one formerly incarcerated person, and a few panels consisted entirely of formerly incarcerated people.  While there was some disagreement about the best terminology, resources, and methods to use in the fight against collateral consequences, the Conference represented an inclusive, humanistic approach to discussing the difficult topics of racism, morality, and social responsibility within the criminal justice system and the public at large.  Some of the broad recommendations for reducing the impact of collateral consequences included:

• Building up resources in communities of color

• Funding better education systems

• Protecting and asserting the right to vote

• Increasing awareness of mental health issues

• Reforming law enforcement education to foster improved community relations

• Building coalitions at the local, state, and national levels

• Rehabilitating and educating people while they are incarcerated

• Making prisons and prosecutions more transparent

• Banning the box on employment applications that asks about prior criminal records

• Providing more employment opportunities for people getting out of prison

• Sharing success stories and changing the narrative about people who have been incarcerated

This report is intended to facilitate more discussion and to inspire further action on these issues so that anyone — not just the Conference attendees and participants — can work to shatter the shackles of collateral consequences.

June 6, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Curious (but still encouraging) discussion of expected release of prisoners after FIRST STEP Act "good time" fix becomes operational

In a few older FIRST STEP Act implementation posts (linked below), I flagged the statutory provision in the Act that delayed the immediate application of its "good time" fix.  (This fix provides that well-behaved prisoners will now get a full 15% credit for good behavior amounting to up to 54 days (not just 47 days) per year in "good time.")  Though folks had been hoping to fix the fix so that it could be immediately applicable, now enough time has passed that we are getting close to when the "good time" fix is very likely to kick in (assuming the Attorney General complies with a key deadline in the Act).   The coming July arrival of the "good time" fix kicking in has prompted this notable new Marshall Project piece headlined "White House Pushing to Help Prisoners Before Their Release."  Here are excerpts:

The White House is racing to help an estimated 2,200 federal prisoners line up work and housing before they are released next month, according to several policy experts and prisoner advocates who have been involved in the effort.

The early release is made possible by the First Step Act, a federal law passed with bipartisan support in December that is aimed at refocusing the criminal justice system on rehabilitation.  The prisoners scheduled to be let out in July are the largest group to be freed so far.  Their sentences are being reduced thanks to a clause that goes into effect next month, which effectively increased the amount of credit prisoners could get for good conduct in custody....

With weeks remaining before thousands more prisoners walk free, the Trump administration has assigned the U.S. Probation Office and the Department of Labor to help people prepare to return home.  White House officials are also seeking as much help as possible from the private sector, according to policy experts involved in the effort. They’ve asked major corporations to make pledges to hire the ex-prisoners while pushing the Social Security Administration to make sure each prisoner has a Social Security card needed for employment.  The Salvation Army is providing help with housing.  White House officials have discussed asking ride-share companies and public transportation agencies to offer free rides, the policy experts and advocates for prisoners said.

The Society for Human Resource Management, a national membership association for people working in human resources, has been recruited to work with states and private employers to offer education, legal advice and guidance on how companies can hire ex-prisoners. President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. said his organization had already begun that work last year but has ramped up a messaging campaign to let companies know that more than 2,000 employable people are about to start asking for jobs.“We need them, and they need us,” he said....

Outside groups that lobbied for the First Step Act say preparing prisoners for the workforce has never been more important, with unemployment at record lows and businesses scrambling to fill positions.“We know this administration is focused on the roughly 2,200 federal prisoners who are expected to be released this summer under the First Step Act,” said Mark Holden, senior vice president of Stand Together, a justice reform group funded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. “We all share the same vision that those leaving prison have access to basic needs and services that will help them safely return home and become contributing members of society.”

In this twitter thread, Kevin Ring of FAMM highlights some reasons I find this press piece curious, such as the fact that it provides little statistical or substantive contexts. One would not know, for example, that roughly 1000 federal prisons are released on an average week and that over 50,000 persons are released from state and federal prisons each month. And, as Kevin notes, a lot of folks who will now be getting the benefit of the "good time" fix may already be on home confinement and/or in halfway houses and working on employment prospects.

That all said, I still want to trump and praise the fact that the White House is actively involved now in trying to help ensure good outcomes for FIRST STEP Act beneficiaries and is calling upon both government agencies and private entities to help with this effort.  In addition to increasing the likelihood of good outcomes, this investment by the White House and these broader stories can and should further demonstrate that criminal justice reform does not and cannot stop when a new law gets passed.  Implementation, and follow-up by all sorts of players, is critical to success and requires persistent energy and commitment. 

(As an aside, Kevin's tweets note that the biggest number of released-at-once prisoners in the federal system came after the 2013 drug guideline reductions were made retroactive, which was partially supported by the Obama Administration.  That point in this context now has me wondering if the Obama Administration took any special steps to help those released federal prisoners or those who got out via Prez Obama's clemency initiative.)

Prior related posts:

June 5, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 03, 2019

Splitting 5-4 in a distinctive way, SCOTUS rules against defendant seeking to avoid tolling of supervised-release term

The Supreme Court handed down four opinions this morning, but only one came in a criminal case and the opinion was not in one of the cases that so many criminal justice court-watchers are eagerly waiting for (like Gundy or Gamble or Haymond).  But the ruling this morning in Mont v. US , No. 17-8995 (S. Ct. June 3, 2019) (available here), on a technical issue of when federal supervised release terms run, should capture the attention of SCOTUS watchers because of the distinctive (and I think unprecedented) line-up of the votes in this 5-4 split opinion: 

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, ALITO, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined.

The ruling of the Court begins and ends this way:

This case requires the Court to decide whether a convicted criminal’s period of supervised release is tolled — in effect, paused — during his pretrial detention for a new criminal offense. Specifically, the question is whether that pretrial detention qualifies as “imprison[ment] in connection with a conviction for a Federal, State, or local crime.” 18 U. S. C. §3624(e). Given the text and statutory context of §3624(e),we conclude that if the court’s later imposed sentence credits the period of pretrial detention as time served for the new offense, then the pretrial detention also tolls the supervised-release period.....

In light of the statutory text and context of §3624(e), pretrial detention qualifies as “imprison[ment] in connection with a conviction” if a later imposed sentence credits that detention as time served for the new offense.  Such pretrial detention tolls the supervised-release period, even though the District Court may need to make the tolling determination after the conviction.  Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Sixth Circuit.

The dissent begins this way:

A term of supervised release is tolled when an offender “is imprisoned in connection with a conviction.” 18 U. S. C. §3624(e).  The question before the Court is whether pretrial detention later credited as time served for a new offense has this tolling effect.  The Court concludes that it does, but it reaches that result by adopting a backwardlooking approach at odds with the statute’s language and by reading the terms “imprisoned” and “in connection with” in unnatural isolation.  Because I cannot agree that a person “is imprisoned in connection with a conviction” before any conviction has occurred, I respectfully dissent.

Though I will need to read the opinion closely to see whether there are some possible broader implications of this ruling, but this case shows yet again that Justice Gorsuch is much more inclined to vote in favor of criminal defendants (in non-capital cases) than other GOP appointees. And here we have Justice Ginsburg proving to be the swing voter delivering a loss to a criminal defendant.

June 3, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"The Second Step Act should give white-collar criminals a chance after release"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent Washington Examiner commentary authored by Cassie Monaco.  Here are excerpts:

I will also never forget the day I found out that my husband had been charged with a nonviolent criminal offense.  The emotions that I felt and the pain that I had at that very moment are indescribable, not to mention the feelings of utter shock, knowing that your life will never be the same again.  Today, my husband is serving six and a half years at a federal prison in Colorado.

As the wife of an incarcerated individual, I had two choices: Do I indulge in self-pity, or do I channel my energy and emotions into something more productive? I chose the latter. And so I got involved with national advocacy efforts on criminal justice reform, and I created an organization called A Day Closer, with the sole mission of reducing recidivism by keeping families intact while a loved one is incarcerated.

The First Step Act is providing much needed relief and assistance to many of those incarcerated and their families.  It is also restoring dignity back into our very broken criminal justice system.  However, the act still leaves behind a group that oftentimes gets over looked: individuals convicted of white-collar crimes.

I can understand the lack of sympathy out there for many white-collar criminals, but not all of them are bad people.  In addition to admitting their crimes and apologizing to the victims, they are left financially destroyed, with their professional and personal lives ruined forever....

The First Step Act understandably focuses on relief for drug offenders.  But oftentimes, those offenders do not have the burden of restitution once they are out.  The white-collar group, although they are less likely to fall victim to recidivism, will however be saddled with a life sentence in the form of extraordinary restitution.  They will never be completely free, even after time served. This needs to change.

As the national conversation shifts to the Second Step, lawmakers should sponsor and support legislation that provides some relief with regards to restitution amounts. Meanwhile, by executive order, Trump should return the Office of the Pardon Attorney to its former place under the Executive Office of the President.  Finally, Trump should create an independent commission that advises the president on matters related to Executive Clemency.

The goal is simple: give those that have committed white-collar crimes, admitted to their mistakes, and served their time a real chance to start over and rebuild their lives, without being saddled with the burden that excessive restitution creates.

May 22, 2019 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Reentry and community supervision, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Two great new policy briefs from Right on Crime discussing best practices for parole and probation

Marc Levin, who serves as Vice President for Right on Crime, has two great new "Policy Perspective" briefs on parole and probation systems. Below are the titles, links and "Key Points" from the start of both great documents:

Ten Tips for Policymakers for Parole

Key Points

• The criteria for deciding who is paroled should be objective and focused on reducing risks to public safety going forward.

• Parole boards should possess a diverse range of relevant areas of expertise and provide opportunities for meaningful participation by parole candidates and others with an interest in the outcome.

• Parole supervision and reentry should emphasize removing barriers to employment, incentives for performance, quality interactions between parole officers and those they supervise, and avenues for community-based organizations to assist people coming out of prison.

Ten Tips for Policymakers for Improving Probation

Key Points

• Probation can be an alternative or gateway to incarceration.

• Probation should be right-sized to serve only those individuals who require supervision for only the limited time period that their assessment and conduct indicate a continued need for supervision.

• Incentives should drive probation policy, both for agencies and those they supervise.

May 19, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)