Sunday, April 07, 2019

Are more re-enfranchised former offenders now registering as Republicans rather than as Democrats?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable New York Sun piece headlined "Trump’s ‘First Step’ Toward 2020."  Here are excerpts:

Could President Trump’s bipartisan criminal justice reform — known as the First Step Act — prove to be a first step in a political revolution?  We ask because of a startling disclosure by one of the President’s shrewdest lieutenants in the campaign for First Step, Jared Kushner.  It turns out, he said, that greater numbers of ex-cons being granted suffrage in Florida are registering as Republicans.

Mr. Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, dropped that surprise almost in passing toward the end of an interview with Laura Ingraham. The interview was mainly about the First Step Act celebrated Monday at the White House. Toward the end of the interview, though, they chatted about the Democratic field. Ms. Ingraham popped one of those classic one-word questions: “Socialism?”

“I don’t think that’s where the country is,” Mr. Kushner said. “One statistic that I found very pleasing is that in Florida they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats, and I think they see the reforms . . .”  Ms. Ingraham cut in: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats?”

“That’s the data that I’ve seen,” replied Mr. Kushner. “I think that will surprise a lot of people when they see the new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be.”

No doubt it would be a mistake to make too much of this.  It’s been but months since Florida amended its constitution to restore voting rights to felons.  It will take years for the effects to show up in voter registration and at the polls.  Yet it would be a mistake to make too little of it, as well.  Particularly because we’ve had some — not to put too fine a point on it — close races in the Sunshine State.

Florida’s constitutional amendment, after all, restored, at least de jure, suffrage to something like 1.5 million ex-cons, according to the various press accounts. The Democrats were the party pushing for putting these men and women back on the voting rolls.  That brings Florida in line with most states.  The party seems to have taken for granted that they will reap the advantage.

That could prove to be yet another underestimation of Mr. Trump.  We’re not predicting that, just marking the possibility.  The video of the event at the White House to celebrate the the First Step Act underscores the point. It is, we don’t mind saying, breathtaking and worth watching in full. It illuminates the President’s abilities as an inclusive, bipartisan leader....

It’s not our purpose to suggest that the First Step Act is without issues (it was opposed by a number of the most conservative senators). Our purpose is to mark that while the Democrats are trying to get out of first gear — they’re still focused on the Mueller report — Mr. Trump is setting up his 2020 strategy in a highly premeditated way, one that the Democrats seem determined to underestimate yet again.

I am really drawn to this New York Sun piece for a host of reasons.  First and foremost, I agree with the assertion that, as I noted here, last week's event at the White House to celebrate the the FIRST STEP Act was breathtaking and worth watching in full (via this twitter link).  In addition, though I would like to see first-hand data out of Florida on re-enfranchised registrations, the specifics may matter less than that Jared Kushner believes (and is surely telling his father) that criminal justice reform and re-enfranchisement efforts have real political potential for the Republican party. 

Many years ago, I urged in posts and in Daily Beast commentary that then-Prez-candidate Mitt Romney should embrace "Right on Crime" rhetoric about the need for criminal justice reforms in order to help the Republican party appeal more to younger voters and voter of color.  Jared Kushner clearly seems to tapping into these ideas when talking up a "new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be."  The event celebrating the FIRST STEP Act suggests a willingness, even an eagerness, for this White House to double down on criminal justice reform because they sense a distinct political opportunity as good politics starts to match up with better policies in this space.  This reality bodes well for future reform efforts no matter who is truly getting the bulk of the benefit from re-enfranchised voters.

Finally, politics aside, there is no good reason in my view to disenfranchise categorically any class of competent voters (and my basic thinking on this front was effectively explained in this Big Think piece years ago headlined "Let Prisoners Vote").  The long-standing perception that re-enfranchisement efforts would help Democrats a lot more than Republicans has contributed to political divisions over doing what is right and just, namely letting everyone have proper access to the franchise.  I hope development in Florida and elsewhere can undermine the belief that only one party benefits from re-enfranchisement efforts so that both parties can fully support the fundamental commitment to democracy that re-enfranchisement represents. 

A few prior related recent posts:

April 7, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Collateral consequences, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Third-Class Citizenship: The Escalating Legal Consequences of Committing a 'Violent' Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Michael M. O'Hear now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

For many years, American legislatures have been steadily attaching a wide range of legal consequences to convictions — and sometimes even just charges — for crimes that are classified as “violent.”  These consequences affect many key aspects of the criminal process, including pretrial detention, eligibility for pretrial diversion, sentencing, eligibility for parole and other opportunities for release from incarceration, and the length and intensity of supervision in the community.  The consequences can also affect a person’s legal status and rights long after the sentence for the underlying offense has been served.  A conviction for a violent crime can result in registration requirements, lifetime disqualification from employment in certain fields, and a loss of parental rights, among many other “collateral consequences.”  While a criminal conviction of any sort relegates a person to a kind of second-class citizenship in the United States, a conviction for a violent crime increasingly seems even more momentous — pushing the person into a veritable third-class citizenship.

This article provides the first systematic treatment of the legal consequences that result from a violence charge or conviction.  The article surveys the statutory law of all fifty states, including the diverse and sometimes surprisingly broad definitions of what counts as a violent crime.  While the article’s aims are primarily empirical, concerns are raised along the way regarding the fairness and utility of the growing length and severity of sentences imposed on “violent” offenders and of the increasingly daunting barriers to their reintegration into society.

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

Shouldn't every criminal justice institution include leaders with past criminal justice involvement?

XO63XMY22BDO5P3YXLAZM4LLDMIn his landmark book, "Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order," Judge Marvin Frankel famously urged the creation of a "Commission on Sentencing" which would include "lawyers, judges, penologists, and criminologists, ... sociologists, psychologists, business people, artists, and, lastly for emphasis, former or present prison inmates."  As Judge Frankel goes on to explain, having such persons on a sentencing commission "merely recognizes what took too long to become obvious — that the recipients of penal 'treatment' must have relevant things to say about it."

Judge Frankel's astute comments from nearly half a century ago came to mind (along with the question that is the title of this post) on a lovely Sunday morning when I saw this lovely local article headlined "Freed from prison nine years ago, Brandon Flood is new secretary of Pa.’s pardon board."  Here are excerpts:

This column will probably come as something of a shock to all the people in Harrisburg who only know Brandon Flood — a bow-tied, bespectacled policy wonk with sartorial flair — as the persona that he laughingly calls “Urkel Brandon,” in a homage to one of TV’s most famous nerds.  Flood, now 36, readily admits most folks who know him from nearly a decade as a legislative aide or lobbyist will be shocked to learn of his past that includes boot camp for juvenile offenders, a physical scuffle with Harrisburg’s then-police chief, and finally felony convictions and two lengthy prison stints for dealing crack cocaine and carrying an unlicensed gun.

But starting last week, Flood’s turnaround saga has become a talking point and a mission statement for his new job as secretary of the five-member Pennsylvania Board of Pardons  — anchoring one leg of a broader push in Harrisburg for criminal justice reform, aimed at giving more convicted felons a chance for clemency or to wipe their slate clean with a pardon.  What makes Flood’s appointment even more remarkable is that — to steal a phrase from TV infomercial lore — he’s not just Pennsylvania’s new top pardons administrator, he’s also a client.  Gov. Wolf signed off on Flood’s own board-approved pardon, erasing his past convictions, just a few weeks before Flood stepped in as secretary.

Taking a break last Monday during his first day on the job for a sit-down interview, the soft-spoken Flood said a number of new initiatives — to not only call attention to Pennsylvania’s pardon process but also to make it easier to apply for one — will hopefully show former inmates that the state is more focused on rewarding good post-prison behavior.  “If they see this [a pardon] as a viable option, they will continue to be productive citizens,” Flood said, who plans to use his own story as a powerful example of that. “They will see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Flood’s hiring was the brainchild of Pennsylvania’s new lieutenant governor, John Fetterman.  Policy-oriented, progressive and looking for areas where he can make a difference in the oft-neglected No. 2 slot, the burly, black-shirted Braddock ex-mayor has honed in on his designated role as chairman of the Board of Pardons.  Fetterman told me that Flood is “a singularly unique person to have in order help remake the process ... which is only the only remedy for anyone in Pennsylvania who wants to move forward with their lives in this way.”

Flood’s arrival helps mark the beginning of one era in Pennsylvania criminal justice and arguably the end of another.  It was exactly 25 years ago that a convicted murderer named Reginald McFadden was granted his freedom by a Board of Pardons led by then-Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, who was also running for governor that year.  McFadden almost immediately killed two people and raped a third, and the case, with its overtones of the infamous Willie Horton affair, was cited by experts as a reason for Singel’s defeat that fall.  The political fallout dramatically changed Pennsylvania’s pardon math. Critics (including the man Fetterman ousted in a 2018 primary, ex-Lt. Gov. Mike Stack) came to say that the state’s pardon system was “broken” in an era of skyrocketing mass incarceration.  Commutations of life sentences ground to a virtual halt, post-McFadden, while pardons for lesser crimes slowed as long backlogs and a confusing process discouraged applicants....

For Fetterman, who hails his close working relationship with Wolf on criminal justice reform, Flood’s hiring is symbolic of both down-to-earth pardon reforms — a $63 application fee was eliminated last month, and the board is looking to digitize the application process and possibly open satellite offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and eventually elsewhere — and a bold new attitude.  In December, Wolf granted board-recommended clemency to three life-sentenced inmates — after only signing two in his first 47 months in office.  Fetterman, who’s currently on an all-67-county tour to discuss the possibility of legalizing marijuana, also said he wants a task force to look at granting widespread pardons for past pot-related convictions. “These are simple charges that are damning people’s career possibilities,” he said.

I am so very pleased to see these developments in the Keystone State, especially because I think having a robust parole, commutation and pardon system can play a key role in encouraging persons to return to a law-abiding life after a run-in with the law. Moreover, beyond whatever reforms or actions are led by Brandon Flood, his very appointment to this position serves as an important symbol of redemption and potential.

In line with this state development and with the question in the title of this post, it dawns on me that the US Sentencing Commission has likely never had, over its now 35-year history, any commissioners with any personal history with the criminal justice system. (I am not entirely certain of this assertion, as I do not know everything about the past of the 30 persons here listed as former commissioners.)  Judge Frankel's astute staffing suggestions have not been followed in various ways in the federal system — e.g., I cannot recall any business people or artists on the USSC — but I think the absence of a former offender is especially glaring.

With five(!) open spots on the USSC, and with Prez Trump talking up the importance of "successful reentry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records... starting right away," now would seem to be an especially opportune time for a USSC appointment of someone with a "past criminal record" in the federal system.  Names like Matthew Charles and Shon Hopwood and Alice Johnson and Kevin Ring immediately come (alphabetically) to mind, but I am sure there are many others who could serve admirably in this role as "recipients of penal 'treatment' [with] relevant things to say about it."  

April 7, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 06, 2019

US District Court declares unconstitutional Illinois host-site rules that has led to indefinite detention of hundreds of sex offenders

Via the always terrific Marshall Project, I came across a notable opinion by US District Judge Virginia Kendall finding constitutionally problematic a remarkable set of rules used to restrict the release of sex offenders from prison in Illinois.  This local press report on this ruling provides these basics:

A federal judge in Chicago has found the Illinois Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of prisoners convicted of certain sex crimes by making the restrictions on where they can live so stringent that inmates are often locked up long beyond their sentences.

In a ruling issued Sunday, Judge Virginia Kendall wrote that hundreds of offenders in the state’s prison system successfully complete their entire court-ordered sentences yet remain behind bars indefinitely.  Kendall found the corrections department is depriving them of fundamental rights, and if they had money and support, they’d be able to leave and begin serving out what’s called “mandatory supervised release.”

Mark Weinberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the decision could mean relief for hundreds of people who have been in prison even though they’ve served their time.... Prisoners call the time they serve beyond their sentences — often many years — “dead time.”...

Will Mingus, executive director of the nonprofit Illinois Voice for Reform which advocates for more effective sex offender policies, says the state’s laws are counterproductive — they actually keep these prisoners from receiving the support that research shows will help them rehabilitate.  “The laws [the legislature is] creating are not solving the problem, they’re not creating safety, they’re creating the illusion of safety,” Mingus said. “Studies that have been done for years now you’ll see that having stable housing, having a job, having social support, those are the things that help people reintegrate into society and help reduce recidivism.”  Mingus said he understands it is difficult to have practical conversations around paroling and rehabilitating sex offenders, but he thinks the judge’s ruling is common sense.  “I think it’ll be a win for the people currently sitting in prison long past their out date because they simply cannot find a place to parole to,” Mingus said. 

Adele Nicholas, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says there are a couple of potential solutions the department of corrections could implement.  “One would be making available different forms of free housing that people who can’t afford a place to live could go to,” Nicholas said.  “Whether that’s allowing people to parole to homeless shelters, or making it so there are halfway houses people could live in, or work release.”  Currently, there are no halfway houses in Illinois that will accept someone convicted of a sex offense.

Kendall wasn’t clear on exactly what the solution will be to get the men released from prison quickly. She expects to hold a hearing April 22 to begin determining that, she wrote.

The full 61-page ruling in Murphy v. Raoul, No. 16 C 11471 (N.D. Ill. March 31, 2019), is available at this link.  Here is how it starts and ends:

The Paul Murphy is indigent and homeless.  He was convicted of possession of child pornography in 2012 and received a sentence of three years’ probation.  Five years after his release date, and nearly twice the number of years of his sentence, he remains incarcerated because the Department of Corrections cannot find an appropriate place for him live. 

Illinois, like many states, requires sentencing courts to follow a term of imprisonment with a term of mandatory supervised release.  Supervised release is a form of post-confinement monitoring intended to assist individuals in their transition from prison to liberty.  Most supervised release terms are determinate, but some — including those that apply to several sex offenses — are indeterminate, meaning they range from three years to natural life.  The clock on these terms does not start ticking until sex offenders are out of prison, but some never make it that far because they are indigent and the State demands that they first secure a qualifying host site before it will release them.  Many offenders successfully complete their entire court-ordered terms of incarceration yet remain detained indefinitely because they are unable find a residence due to indigence and lack of support.

The question presented is whether this practice violates the Constitution.  The plaintiffs are a class comprising the affected sex offenders and the defendants are the Attorney General of Illinois and the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.  Both parties moved for summary judgment.  The Court now grants the plaintiffs’ motion in part, denies it in part, and denies the defendants’ cross-motion in full.   At the very heart of the liberty secured by the separation of powers is freedom from indefinite imprisonment by executive decree.  The Attorney General and Director’s current application of the host site requirement results in the continued deprivation of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights and therefore contravenes the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States....

Sex offenders are criminals, plain and simple.  Yet the “one enduring lesson in the long struggle to balance individual rights against society’s need to defend itself against lawlessness,” is that it “‘is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy.  It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.’” United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 567 (1985) (quoting Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 597 (1946) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting)).

The Illinois Legislature thought it best to rehabilitate sex offenders by reintegrating them, like all other convicted felons, into the community after prison.  The Constitution thus entitles them to the same conditional liberty that all other releasees receive.  Because the defendants’ current application of the host-site requirement permits the indefinite detention of the plaintiffs, it breaches the promises enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  The Court accordingly grants the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to their equal protection (Count II) and Eighth Amendment claims (Count IV), denies it as to their substantive (Count I) and procedural (Count III) due process claims, and denies the defendants’ cross-motion in full.

Although the Court today decides liability, it reserves ruling on the proper remedy to afford the plaintiffs.  The Court sets a status hearing for 4/22/2019 at 9:00 a.m. to discuss a trial date for the procedural due process claim and the need for a remedial hearing to determine the scope of equitable relief.

April 6, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, April 01, 2019

Encouraging news and inspiring notes as White House celebrates FIRST STEP Act

This Washington Examiner piece, headlined "Trump announces Second Step Act to help ex-prisoners find work," reviews some highlights from today's celebration of the FIRST STEP Act at the White House today. Here are excerpts:

President Trump announced plans Monday for a Second Step Act focused on easing employment barriers for formerly incarcerated people.  "We are proving we're a nation that believes in redemption," Trump said at a White House event celebrating people released under the First Step Act, which he signed in December.

Trump said the "second step" legislation will feature a $88 million funding request for prisoner social reentry programs. "Today, I'm announcing that the Second Step Act will be focused on successful reentry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records, and that's what we're starting right away," Trump said....

Some advocates had urged deeper sentencing reforms in a second major criminal justice reform bill.  Troy Powell, whose crack cocaine sentence was shortened by the First Step Act, spoke at the event Monday and called for more action to release inmates.  "There's more that can be done. I left so many people behind in prison doing 40, 50 years for nothing, I mean absolutely nothing," Powell said.  "I think there should be a second step."

Trump applauded Powell. "Could I have said it better than that?  His statement about so many people?  And that's true, so many people are there that really are serving 40 and 50 year sentences for things you wouldn't even believe, for things some people wouldn't even be going to prison for today," he said....

Trump said his administration would also "encourage employers to adopt second chance hiring practices," and gave rare applause to the media for favorable coverage of Alice Johnson, whose drug sentence he shortened last year using his executive clemency powers.  "Alice said, 'I also want to thank the media.' I bent over and said, 'Are you sure?' And I do too, I think that's fantastic," Trump said.

One speaker at the event, former prison inmate and Georgetown University law professor Shon Hopwood, was introduced by Trump as a current teacher of his daughter Tiffany Trump. "I think you're going to be rewarded in a way you cannot even imagine," Hopwood told Trump.

Via this twitter link, one can watch the full clip of Prez Trump speaking about criminal justice reform and hear the inspiring comments of a number of former federal prisoners who have been helped by the FIRST STEP Act.  Also, the White House released this "Fact Sheet" today titled "President Donald J. Trump Is Committed to Building on the Successes of the First Step Act."  The whole document is notable, and here are excerpts:

April 1, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Student SCOTUS preview part three: mapping out likely votes after oral argument in US v. Haymond

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

As reported in this prior post, I have a great student, Jim McGibbon, who is drafting a series of posts on the Haymond case.  Oral argument took place last month, and Jim was there for all the action.  Following up on his introductory post, and his second post inspired by the briefing in the case, he is working on a few posts on the Justices' likely votes informed by the argument.  Here is the start of his efforts:

Oral argument for United States v. Haymond is completed and the case has been submitted.  Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog observed after oral argument that the Court seems “poised to rule for [Haymond] in dispute over constitutionality of sex-offender law."  I predict that United States v. Haymond will be decided 6-3 in favor of Mr. Haymond.  This post will analyze the predicted majority and the next post will give a breakdown of the predicted dissent.

Locks

Justice Sotomayor

Justice Sotomayor may have more than tipped her hand when she opined during oral argument that to compare supervised release with parole is “to compare apples and oranges.”  If still not convinced, consider that she has stated in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), that “Apprendi [is] firmly rooted in our jurisprudence.”   Not so subtly did Justice Sotomayor lay the cards on the table, when she averred during oral argument that she had a “due process concern as well as a Sixth Amendment concern” with the procedures applicable in Haymond.  The government did little to propitiate Sotomayor at oral argument, and it appears safe to say that Sotomayor will not break rank from her past holdings.

Justice Thomas

Justice Thomas wrote the concurring opinion in Apprendi v. New Jersey.  He asserted that “if the legislature defines some core crime and then provides for increasing the punishment of that crime upon a finding of some aggravating fact of whatever sort, including the fact of a prior conviction — the core crime and the aggravating fact together constitute an aggravated crime.”  Here, the 10th Circuit convicted Haymond of a violation of 3583(k) and as a result, he was subsequently exposed to “greater and additional punishment” without a jury.  Even though Justice Thomas may not believe in stare decisis and even though he did not speak during oral argument, it would seem reasonable to assume that he believes that 3583(k) is a sentencing enhancement of a sort that is based on facts that need to be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. To boot, Justice Thomas was in the majority in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), and Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013) both cases extending the reach of the procedural rights recognized in Apprendi.

Likely

Justice Ginsburg

Justice Ginsburg is a soldier of criminal procedural rights as she joined the ranks of the majority in Apprendi, Blakely, and Alleyne, which all affirmed Sixth Amendment and related procedural due process rights for the criminal defendant.  And in the Haymond oral argument, Justice Ginsburg may have revealed her vote when she intimated that the imposition of 3583(k) requires a “factual finding.”  She also voiced more concern over the remedy that the defendant was seeking than the merits of the argument, which although is not conclusive, is suggestive.  But, of course, Justice Ginsburg was the key swing vote that created the advisory guideline remedy in Booker, and see authored the Court opinion limiting the reach of the Sixth Amendment in Oregon vIce, 555 U.S. 160 (2009).

Justice Kagan

Justice Kagan seems quite likely to hold for the defendant.  She was among the majority in Alleyne, and during oral argument in Haymond she also resisted the government's efforts to compare supervised release to parole.  More generally, in a variety of setting for a variety of criminal defendants, Justice Kagan has been a fairly consistent voice and vote for expanding procedural rights.  It is hard to think of too many cases in which Justice Kagan has been less willing to recognize expanded constitutional rights than her colleagues. 

On the Bubble
Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh

Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch do not have extensive enough records as Supreme Court Justices regarding Sixth Amendment or other procedural due process rights to predict with any confidence how they will vote, which is why I have them as on the bubble.  Notably, last year Justice Gorsuch was a key swing vote siding with the more liberal justices in a case where the Court held that a federal statute defining a "crime of violence" was unconstitutionally vague. See Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018). This case seems to suggest that Justice Gorsuch is not disinclined to strike down federal statutes even to benefit criminal offenders.  Notably, during oral argument, Justice Gorsuch also resisted the government’s contention that supervised release and parole were similar, and he did not question the defendant’s counsel at all during oral argument.

Justice Kavanaugh questioned both sides during the argument in Haymond, and he focused on the intricacies of the applicable statutes and a possible remedy.  Notably, while serving on the DC Circuit, in 2015 then-Judge Kavanuagh issued a notable statement in case involving a sentence enhanced on the basis of "acquitted conduct" (available here) that included the assertion that "[a]llowing judges to rely on acquitted or uncharged conduct to impose higher sentences than they otherwise would impose seems a dubious infringement of the rights to due process and a jury trial."   Given that statement, though Justice Kavanaugh could be a wild card here, I predict that he sides with the defendant.

Up next, the breakdown of the predicted dissenters.

Prior related posts:

March 30, 2019 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Encouraging developments in remarkable federal case that threatened old prison term after obvious rehabilitation

Download (13)I had been meaning to blog about this remarkable story first reported in the New Haven Independent under the headline "Glitch May Return Rehab’d Man To Prison." Here is the backstory from that piece: 

Jermaine Demetrius Anderson may have to leave his two jobs, his condo in Westville, his local “church family,” and the stable, crime-free life he has built for himself in the Elm City — and go to prison. All because of an apparent miscommunication over a decade ago between the Connecticut state judicial system and the federal court in Philadelphia.

His hope now is the federal government — maybe even President Donald Trump — will cut him a break.

On Feb. 28, Paul Diamond, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest for his failure to serve an outstanding 16-month federal sentence. The sentence dates to a crime that occurred 16 years ago.

The federal court issued that sentence to Anderson, now a 43-year-old employee for the city’s parks department, in 2005 after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of possessing and passing counterfeit currency and one count of identity theft while living in Pennsylvania. He committed the crimes in 2003.

Anderson never served that federal sentence. Even though he thought he had. That’s because he spent three years in state prison in Connecticut after pleading guilty to similar but separate counterfeit currency charges in New Haven in 2003. He said he believed he was serving his state and federal sentences concurrently while locked up in Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire.

After finishing that state sentence in November 2006, the state judicial system didn’t remand him to federal custody in Philadelphia. He said no one reached out to him and said he had to report to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to serve more time for the federal offense. He thought he had done his time. He set about rebuilding his life in New Haven.

Thirteen years later, U.S. marshals came pounding on his door in New Haven last week, claiming that he had evaded arrest and demanding that he report back to Pennsylvania to serve 16 months in federal prison.

Local attorney Michael Dolan said he has been in touch with Philadelphia federal attorneys, and has urged them to reconsider requiring Anderson to serve federal time so long after he was sentenced and so long after he served time in state prison on similar charges. “It would appear that the goals of the criminal justice system have been met,” he said about his thoroughly rehabilitated client....

Robert Clark, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, told the Independent that the marshals unearthed Anderson’s outstanding federal sentence and the slip-up between the Connecticut state judicial system and the Pennsylvania federal district court during a routine audit.

“During an internal audit of custody detainers by the U.S. Marshals in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,” he said, “a case dating back to 2005 was found in which a sentenced man, Jermaine Demetrius Anderson, had been sent to Connecticut to face state charges. After a conviction and sentence served in Connecticut, Anderson should have been held for transfer back to federal custody; instead, he was mistakenly released. Upon the Marshals providing this information to a federal judge, the court issued a bench warrant for Anderson for failure to serve an outstanding federal sentence. Anderson was arrested in Connecticut March 20, released on bond and ordered to appear in U.S. district court in Philadelphia April 4. As the enforcement arm of the federal courts, the Marshals ensure that individuals with federal warrants are brought to face justice. Ultimately, the federal court system will make a determination on Anderson’s outstanding federal sentence.”

Dolan called Anderson’s case a prime example of someone who committed a crime, took responsibility by pleading guilty, served time in prison, and has subsequently successfully rehabilitated himself. “He’s been crime free, drug free, has employment,” Dolan said. “And now they want to take him back into custody.”

“It’s called corrections,” Anderson said. “I corrected myself. I don’t want pity. I just want people to be ethical.”

“I wasn’t evading,” he continued. “I wasn’t on the run.”

Encouragingly, this new CNN piece suggests an ethical outcome to this case may be in the works. The piece is headlined "Man who feared feds would finally impose sentence may have deal to avoid more prison," and here are the new developments:

A judge issued a bench warrant and Anderson was due back in court April 4, when it's possible he could be detained and sent to federal prison.

That apparently won't happen now after his lawyer said he reached a verbal agreement with prosecutors and the Bureau of Prisons to give Anderson credit for time "at liberty."

"I'm overjoyed but waiting for official paperwork," Anderson said, adding, "it's a blessing, but I want the blessing to be official. My heart is back in my chest where it should be." Attorney Michael Dolan said Friday he does not have an official agreement in writing.

CNN's efforts to reach the US attorney's office and the office of the federal judge overseeing the case were not immediately successful....

Dolan helped get Anderson released the day the marshals detained him, and he has been working with federal public defenders to keep his client from going to prison again.

"I certainly think it is cruel and unusual punishment," Dolan said Thursday.

I am pleased to see from this CNN piece that Anderson's attorney was apparently ready to argue that it would be unconstitutional to send him back to prison now under the Eighth Amendment. I do not think anyone would question a claim that this case is "unusual" and the facts described above certainly lead me to think it also "cruel" to require Anderson's imprisonment now under these circumstances. If a court were not prepared to rule that Anderson's reimprisonment was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, this case might alternatively be another setting for developing jurisprudence on what should be deemed "extraordinary and compelling reasons" warranting a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).  This case certainly seems extraordinary and compelling to me, and modifying Anderson's federal sentence now certain seems in keeping with the "factors set forth in section 3553(a)." 

March 30, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 29, 2019

New reform reports from Florida and Ohio with broader ideas and lessons

This week I came across two notable and reader-friendly reports that each focus on developments in one (swing) state and do so in ways that suggest broader ideas and lessons for reformers working in any jurisdiction. Here are links to these reports with some of their introductory text:

From the Urban Institute, "Smart Reforms to Prison Time Served Requirements in Florida":

Florida’s criminal justice policy decisions, including strict time served requirements, have resulted in an unsustainably large prison system.  The average length of time served in Florida prisons has risen dramatically in recent decades, far outpacing increases in other states and contributing to the state’s large prison population.  Adjusting the state’s inflexible time served requirement is one approach to reducing incarceration that could allow Florida policymakers to save money and invest instead in preventing crime and helping people succeed after coming home from prison.  This brief describes the results of an analysis that shows thousands of people in Florida’s prisons could be released at lower time served requirements, and, for the time they would have been in prison, would not be arrested.

From Alliance for Safety and Justice, Americans for Prosperity-Ohio, and The Buckeye Institute, "Building on Ohio’s sentencing changes to keep prison populations in check":

Bipartisan support for criminal justice reforms such as 2011’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (HB 86), Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) and probation reforms in the last biannual budget (HB 49), and SB 66 from the last general assembly allowed the state to minimally reduce the prison population and take steps to increase the use of local sentencing options to reduce recidivism and connect people to treatment.  These efforts, and reducing the use of confinement for juveniles, have garnered well-earned national attention, helped the state avoid or end costly litigation, and saved hundreds of millions of dollars on new prison construction.   

As lawmakers turn their attention to the new legislative session, the General Assembly has an opportunity to build on the success of their recent reforms to ensure Ohioans suffering from addiction have the tools necessary to become contributing members of society while potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Right now, Ohio spends $1.8 billion on corrections every year and, despite promises of decreased budgets because of reforms, corrections costs have risen.  There are numerous reasons for increased spending including inflation, healthcare costs for an aging prison population, and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction granting tens of millions of dollars back to local governments. But one of the main reasons is that recent changes in the law have not led to the big reductions in prison populations that were projected because not as many people convicted of low-level felonies are being served locally as intended. 

March 29, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Suffolk County DA produces remarkable new prosecutorial polices memo

Around this time last year, as discussed in this post, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner made public a remarkable five-page memo setting forth an array of remarkable progressive prosecutorial policies.  This week, Suffolk County DA has produced an even more remarkable statement of policies via this remarkable 66-page document titled simply "The Rachel Rollins Policy Memo." The document is not easily summarized, and is worth a complete read. These excerpts from the first section, titled "A New Lens," provides a feel for some of the particulars that follow:

A dramatic shift in thinking around criminal justice is occurring in the United States. Sweeping advances in data science and public health have revealed that decades of punitive incarceration are not effectively preventing recidivism and promoting public safety. A large number of criminal convictions secured by prosecutors nationally are for drug, property, and public order offenses, which are often driven by economic, mental health, and social needs....

Data show that a carceral approach to low-level, non-violent offenses can do more harm than good. A criminal record often presents barriers to education, future income, housing, and many other necessary assets and supports proven to help people thrive and succeed in society.

As a result, jurisdictions across the country are taking a smarter approach to punishment and accountability. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices are collecting and analyzing new and varied sources of data, and they are safely beginning to move all but the most serious offenses away from carceral punishment and its downstream collateral harms.

In place of traditional criminal justice system outcomes such as arrest, detention, prosecution, probation, and incarceration, criminal justice practitioners and policymakers are working in collaboration with community partners to develop and implement innovative, evidence-driven diversionary alternatives that data show are more likely to promote safer and healthier communities....

[Recent data] shows that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office can file fewer criminal charges, divert more people who need help into services and treatment, send fewer people to jail and prison, all while improving the health and public safety of Suffolk County residents.  I am pleased to announce, effective immediately, the following official guidelines and policies of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.  These guidelines and policies, as with all of our office’s policies and decisions going forward, will be grounded in science and data, modeled after the best known local and national practices, and will build upon and expand the important work and relationships begun under the leadership of my predecessors

Prior related post:

March 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Philly DA looking to curtail duration of probation and parole

Many years ago, I heard an academic a lot smarter than me say that the US would never make a serious dent in mass incarceration if and while we still had an even more massive number of persons subject to criminal justice supervision. He suggested that it was unavoidable that some percentage subject to community supervision would end up going back to prison, and so to reduce incarceration levels we had to also reduce supervision levels.

This story is salient this morning because of this notable new press report from Philadelphia headlined "Philly DA Larry Krasner: We took on mass incarceration. Now we’re addressing mass supervision." Here are the basics (with this from the original):

Over his first year in office, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner rolled out a series of internal policies described as “an effort to end mass incarceration": seeking shorter sentences, diverting low-level offenses from the justice system, and charging crimes at a lower level. 

Now, he’s looking to the next step. “One of our big priorities this year," he said, "is to try to address mass supervision — which, of course, would be both probation and parole.”

Philadelphia counted 42,000 people on county supervision at the end of 2017, or one in 22 adults. Statewide, Pennsylvanians are under correctional control at the second-highest rate in the nation, behind Georgia, and has the highest rate of parolees.

“I think people instinctively believed too much supervision is not enough. But it turns out too much supervision is too much. ... It does tremendous harm, and it costs a fortune,” Krasner said in an interview outlining policies to be announced Thursday. Nationally, about 40 percent of people on probation are reincarcerated, making community supervision a major driver of incarceration. About 40 percent of Philadelphia’s jail population is being held on a detainer for a violation of probation or parole.

His plan? To put his office’s weight behind a push to drastically curtail terms of supervision, which can stretch on for years or even decades, long after prison and jail sentences have been concluded.

Under the new policy, on top of any sentence of incarceration for a felony, assistant district attorneys will seek community supervision terms averaging 18 months, with a ceiling of three years. For misdemeanors, they’ll seek probation or parole terms around six months, not to exceed one year of combined community supervision.

March 22, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"Criminal justice reform must do more than shrink prison populations"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Hill commentary authored by David Harding, Jeffrey Morenoff and Jessica Wyse. I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Next Step Act on March 7, an expansion of the criminal justice reform started with December’s First Step Act.  We applaud the Next Step Act for essential reforms, including reducing mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.

Yet, reversing the harms that have been created by decades of mass incarceration and an overly punitive and racially-biased criminal justice system requires more than reversing past policy mistakes.  Reform should go beyond shrinking prisons to providing those whose lives have been impacted by mass incarceration with real opportunities that lead to reintegration into society after release....

[R]eintegration requires more than just determination and work ethic, a key finding of our three-year study of the day-to-day lives of formerly incarcerated individuals. About a third struggle with hunger, homelessness and housing instability.

Chronic physical and mental health problems are also common.  Jobs are scarce for those with criminal records, who disproportionately move into communities like Detroit with high unemployment.  Half of those released from prison return within three years.  The period immediately after release is both a time of great risk and an opportunity to ensure that each person starts with a strong foundation of health and material security.

This “re-entry moment” is one of optimism, commitment to a new life and family support, but also a critical time of struggle with hunger, homelessness, employment and sobriety.  Investments in housing, health and employment services during the re-entry moment can create that foundation.

The Next Step Act contains worthy provisions for removing barriers to employment, including certain occupational licensing barriers for those with criminal records.  Yet our research shows that securing a job is only part of the reason for low rates of employment after release.

Education is essential to improving reintegration into the labor force.  Formerly incarcerated workers experience high rates of job turnover, in part because that is common in the low-skill jobs they find.  To improve employment for those like Randall, we should empower more community colleges to offer prison education with a seamless transition into community programs.

Time in prison can be better used to prepare for release.  Research shows that intensive treatment and prison education programs reduce recidivism, and incarcerated individuals are eager to take part in them.  Yet too many prisoners sit idle during their time in prison or engage in make-work jobs like cleaning and gardening....

Just as the federal government supports local efforts in education, health care and policing, it can support state and local reintegration efforts through funding, technical support and evaluation of promising programs.

Can we afford to support reintegration?  Each federal prisoner costs almost $32,000 a year, and in some states that figure is over $80,000.  The money saved by reducing imprisonment can create a virtuous cycle if it is reinvested in reintegration, which will result in fewer people returning to prison.

March 17, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Making progressive (but not political) case that the FIRST STEP Act "does much harm"

Marie Gottschalk has this new Jacobin commentary assailing the FIRST STEP Act under the headlined "Did You Really Think Trump Was Going to Help End the Carceral State?".  The piece reiterates at length a variety of the criticisms from the left waged against the risk assessment tools in FIRST STEP while its fate was being debated in Congress. I recommend the whole piece, and here is how it starts and some excerpts:

With much fanfare, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December. New Jersey senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker hailed the legislation as a milestone that marked a “meaningful break from decades of failed policies that led to mass incarceration.” Other supporters were more measured, characterizing it as a modest first step to keep the momentum going for criminal justice reform.

But the greatest sins of the First Step Act are not its modesty. The legislation nicks the edges of the carceral state while bolstering disturbing trends in criminal justice reform. CNN commentator Van Jones has claimed that the First Step Act is a “rare clean bill” that “does no harm.” Jones is wrong — it does much harm.

Grounding penal policy in the best evidence-based research is a mantra in criminal justice reform. Yet key provisions of the First Step Act are at odds with leading research on how to enhance public safety while minimizing social and economic costs and maintaining a fair criminal justice system that treats everyone — including people who are imprisoned — with dignity....

Van Jones’s claim that the First Step Act paves the way for federal prisons to “rehabilitate and heal — not just punish” rings hollow. The legislation authorizes miniscule funding for its ambitious aims. It designates $75 million annually for the next five years to develop and implement the new risk and needs assessment system for each person in the federal prison system. In doing so, the measure diverts “limited resources for programming by requiring a complex risk assessment process that would primarily benefit people deemed at a low or minimal risk of recidivating,” according to the Sentencing Project, which ultimately gave its qualified support to the First Step Act....

The fundamental problem is not that people in prison do not want to participate in programs but rather the critical shortage of those programs, let alone quality programs. Currently, 16,000 people are on the wait list for the BOP’s literacy program.

The federal prison system is currently in crisis due to overcrowding and staff cutbacks that the First Step Act will not alleviate. Many federal facilities are operating way above capacity. Nurses, counselors, and even cooks have been drafted to serve as temporary correctional officers because of severe staffing shortages. Last year a bipartisan group of legislators charged the Bureau of Prisons and the Trump administration with ignoring calls in Congress not to eliminate thousands of jobs in the federal prison system.

It is impossible to run effective prison programs when people are locked down in their cells due to staffing shortages, teachers and counselors are filling in for correctional officers, and assaults and violence are on the rise, as has been the case in the federal prisons.

Concerns about the under-funding and under-staffing of federal prisons are well founded, and the headline of this new Marshall Project report does not provide a basis for any new optimism: "First Step Act Comes Up Short in Trump’s 2020 Budget: Supporters worry because law seeks $75 million a year for five years, but president’s plan lists $14 million." But I always find these kinds of criticisms of modest improvements in criminal justice systems quite politically tone deaf given how politicians on both sides of the aisle have shown so little interest in pursuing any reforms at all until fairly recently.

This author rightly notes that "many federal facilities are operating way above capacity," but she leaves out that the federal prison population is lower now than any year while Prez Obama was in office. If Prez Obama was unwilling or unable to pursue all the big changes that progressives would like to see, there need to be even more of a political sea change to make big reforms viable.  Notably, some of the 2020 candidates are talking big about criminal justice reform on the campaign trail (most notable Cory Booker), and it is seems to me that they have the space to advocate more boldly only because the FIRST STEP Act is law and not just a bill awaiting a vote.

Ultimately, this piece serves as yet another reminder that how the FIRST STEP Act is implemented and what follows legislatively and politically will ultimately define whether this first step really is more harmful than helpful.  I am still in the optimistic camp on this front, but this commentary provides the best argument for pessimism.

March 12, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

New indictment exposes underbelly of federal RDAP program ... and provides still more reason to be thankful for passage of FIRST STEP Act

This interesting new AP piece, headlined "Show up drunk: Indictments spotlight prison rehab scams," reports on indictments surrounding efforts to defraud the only long-standing federal prison program thathas  allowed prisoners to earn reductions in their rehabilitative efforts.  Here are the details:

It's a tip that has been passed onto convicts for years: On your way to federal prison, say you have a substance abuse problem, and you could qualify for a treatment program that knocks up to a year off your sentence.

Federal prosecutors have long suspected abuses in the program, which has enrolled a deep list of high-profile convicts.  Recently, a grand jury in Connecticut indicted three people accused of coaching ineligible convicts on how to get into the Residential Drug Abuse Program, or RDAP, by telling them to show up to prison intoxicated and fake withdrawal symptoms. The charges are among the first filed against prison consultants involving the program.

The case has put a spotlight on the unregulated world of prison consulting, in which some ex-convicts and former prison employees charge thousands of dollars for their inside knowledge to help people prepare for life behind bars. Some consultants say there has been wrongdoing in the industry for decades, including encouraging clients to scam their way into the rehab program.

The small industry now is "totally the Wild West," said Jack Donson, president of New York-based My Federal Prison Consultant and a retired federal Bureau of Prisons employee. "I hope it brings light to things," he said, referring to the Connecticut case.  "I hope it gives people ... pause to not cross that line to illegality and unethical conduct."

Completing the nine-month, 500-hour treatment program for nonviolent offenders is one of only a few ways inmates can get their sentences reduced. About 15,600 inmates — nearly 10 percent of the current federal prison population — participated in the program last year, and thousands more are on waiting lists. To get in, convicts must present evidence they had substance abuse or addiction problems during the year prior to their arrest. Upon completion, their sentences can be reduced and they can spend the last six months of their sentences in a halfway house.

Christopher Mattei, a former federal prosecutor in Connecticut, said the U.S. attorney's office increasingly saw white-collar convicts make use of the program. "It undermines the public's confidence that all people when they go before a court for sentencing will be treated fairly.  People who know how to game the system know how to get the benefits, whereas people who are struggling with addiction don't know all the angles to play," said Mattei, former chief of the financial fraud and public corruption unit in the Connecticut U.S. attorney's office....

The criminal indictments in Connecticut are believed to be among the first criminal charges filed against prison consultants in connection with the treatment program. Arrested were Michigan residents Tony Pham, 49, and Samuel Copenhaver, 47, both of Grand Rapids; and Constance Moerland, 33, of Hudsonville.  The three were managing partners in RDAP Law Consultants, authorities said.

Prosecutors said the three told clients over the past six years to falsely inform Bureau of Prisons officials that they had drug and alcohol problems, taught them how to fake withdrawal symptoms and how to fraudulently obtain medication to treat withdrawal symptoms, so they could show prescriptions to qualify for the program. The partners also told their clients to begin drinking alcohol daily before going to prison and to show up drunk, the indictments said....

Last year in New York City, a lawyer and three other people were charged with defrauding the government and making false statements. They allegedly submitted bogus information to prison officials, claiming that a convicted drug dealer had a history of addiction, in an effort to get the client into the drug treatment program so he could be released early. The case remains pending.

Other consultants coach people on how to lie to get into the program, according to Donson, who said some also claim they can get convicts sent to prisons that have the RDAP program when only federal prison officials have that authority. He said he sees potential for fraud also as consultants rush to offer help related to a new law that allows federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before late 2010 the opportunity to petition for a lighter penalty.

Donson and other consultants say more monitoring of the industry and prosecutions would help deter misconduct. "It's an unregulated industry, so something like this hopefully brings some attention to it," said Dan Wise, an ex-con who completed the RDAP program and now runs a prison consultant business based in Spokane, Washington.

I think it important for the feds to appropriately police the RDAP program to ensure defendants who are truly struggling with addiction are able to access a program with finite resources. But this article fails to highlight that defendants' efforts to sneak into the RDAP program was a symptom of a broader disease, namely that federal prisoners have historically had precious few means to seek to earn reductions in their sentences. Thankfully, the FIRST STEP Act is a significant step toward treating this disease, as it provides an elaborate set of mechanisms for allow some prisoners to earn reductions through other rehabilitative efforts. But, critically, the FIRST STEP Act has a number of problematic exclusions and restrictions on which prisoners can earn reductions AND there is reason to worry that poor implementation of the FIRST STEP could lead to privileged prisoners again being better able to access programming and reduction that should be made properly available to as many prisoners as possible.

Without know more about the indictments and underlying facts referenced in this AP article, I am disinclined to comment directly on whether federal prosecution of prison consultants may be the most efficient and effective way to police the administration of prison programming. But I am eager to encourage everyone involved in counseling defendant and prisoners to be honest and straight-forward in their dealing or else prisoners and their families are likely to be the ultimate victims.

March 11, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Notable Eighth Circuit panel ruling finds due process right of confrontation violated in revocation of supervised release

I am expecting (and hoping) that the Supreme Court thought its pending Haymond case (basics here and here) will soon be adding to the constitutional procedural protections of federal defendants when facing significant punishment based on allegations they have violated their supervised release.  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss, while we await the Supreme Court's further guidance, a notable panel opinion from the Eighth Circuit in US v. Sutton, No. 17-3195 (8th Cir. March 5, 2019) (available here). Here is how the panel opinion in Sutton gets started and a key substantive passage:

Craig Sutton appeals the revocation of his supervised release based on the allegation that he committed assault in June 2016.  At the final revocation hearing, the government introduced videos and transcripts of police interrogations of three witnesses who had a connection to the assault.  None of the three witnesses appeared at the hearing to provide live testimony, and Sutton objected that introduction of their interrogations deprived himof his right to confrontation. The district court overruled his objection. Relying almost exclusively on the interrogations, the district court concluded that Sutton more likely than not committed the assault and revoked his supervised release. We conclude that admission of the interrogations was erroneous and accordingly reverse....

A revocation hearing is not a criminal trial, and a defendant on supervised release is not entitled to the full panoply of protections afforded by the rules of evidence. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 480 (1972); United States v. Black Bear, 542 F.3d 249, 253, 255 (8th Cir. 2008).  Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(b)(2)(C) nonetheless gives a defendant the opportunity to “question any adverse witness unless the court determines that the interest of justice does not require the witness to appear.”  See Morrissey, 408 U.S. at 488–89 (“[T]he minimum requirements of due process . . . include . . . the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation).”).  This rule requires the court to balance the defendant’s due process right to confront and cross-examine witnesses during such proceedings “against the grounds asserted by the government for not requiring confrontation.” United States v. Bell, 785 F.2d 640, 642 (8th Cir. 1986).

Under Bell, the court must evaluate two factors to determine if good cause justifies limiting the defendant’s confrontation rights in a particular case.  First, “the court should assess the explanation the government offers of why confrontation is undesirable or impractical,” such as when “live testimony would pose a danger of physical harm to a government informant.” Id. at 643.  Second, the government must establish “the reliability of the evidence which the government offers in place of live testimony.” Id. To demonstrate good cause, the government must prove both factors; only if it shows “that the burden of producing live testimony would be inordinate and offers in its place hearsay evidence that is demonstrably reliable” will good cause exist. United States v. Zentgraf, 20 F.3d 906, 910 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Bell, 785 F.2d at 643).

Applying the Bell factors to the testimony of the three witnesses at issue in this case, we conclude that the government failed to meet its burden on either factor and that Sutton was entitled to confrontation.

As the panel explains in a footnote, according the the Eighth Circuit, "because 'a revocation of supervised release is not part of a criminal prosecution,' the right to confrontation afforded at such hearings comes from due process.  United States v. Ray, 530 F.3d 666, 668 (8th Cir. 2008)."  This point and the Sutton case more generally serves as a useful reminder of how impactful, doctrinally and practically, the Supreme Court's Haymond case could prove to be.

March 6, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting how credit score concern should be part of criminal justice reform agenda

Students in my classes, as well as long-time readers of this blog, know of my tendency to see and say that every societal issue is in some way a sentencing and criminal justice issue. The latest exhibit is this interesting new Hill commentary by Carlos Fernando Avenancio-León spotlighting how credit scores should be a concern for the ever-growing ranks of serious criminal justice reformers. The astute piece is headlined "Without access to credit, ex-cons may return to lives of crime," and here are excerpts:

Every week, more than 10,000 prisoners are released from U.S. prisons and begin the long process of reintegrating into society. For many, a successful reintegration will occur only if they can access the types of credit commonly used by all American citizens, such as credit cards and auto loans. For those unable to borrow, prospects for successful re-entry fall and recidivism risks rise. That’s bad for all of us....

Some estimates suggest a majority of former inmates engage in criminal activity after their release. An oft-cited reason is the hard time former inmates have in finding employment. That is no doubt a serious problem and one that must be addressed. However, special attention needs to be paid to a challenge that receives little: the hurdles they face in obtaining credit.

The crux of the issue for former inmates is that getting locked up typically hurts their credit scores. It’s not that credit bureaus specifically knockdown scores due to incarceration. The problem is, for obvious reasons, it’s difficult to repay loans or satisfy other debts while behind bars, so credit defaults and delinquencies pile up.

The negative financial effects continue even after release, as former inmates face severe discrimination in the labor market. Consequently, former inmates face significant impediments to accessing credit. But here is the paradox: Without credit, such individuals face myriad financial difficulties, from not being able to afford transportation or a place to live to falling victim to predatory lending and even homelessness.

Under such conditions, it is harder to get a job or make positive societal contributions. And more worrisome, such former inmates risk backsliding into criminal conduct.

In a recent study, my coauthor and I found that former inmates are much less likely to have mortgages or auto loans than non-incarcerated individuals (14 and 24 percentage points lower, respectively), and their average credit scores are about 50 points lower. Moreover, within the former inmate population, those experiencing sharper drops in credit availability are more likely to engage in future criminal activity: For each thousand dollars of available credit card limit lost, recidivism increases by 1.4 percentage points.

Accordingly, a history of incarceration and lack of access to credit creates credit-driven crime cycles for this population. Yet, after accounting for credit history and income, former inmates are less likely to default on loans than individuals who have never been incarcerated.

Because former inmates present lower credit risks, lenders extend former inmates slightly more loans, albeit not nearly enough to overcome a lending contraction driven by low credit scores. This does not mean that instances of discrimination in lending against former inmates do not happen. These, however, appear to be the exception rather than the rule....

Unfortunately, reductions in credit scores caused by lower income and defaults while in jail or prison are not easily remedied. Lenders cannot readily distinguish the real reason behind a default. Proper solutions to this dilemma need to be developed together with the affected communities and the organizations that help foster re-entry.

These solutions could include a combination of providing re-entry support and education to formerly incarcerated borrowers, deferments similar to those provided in student loans or during natural disasters, shorter times for defaults to be erased from credit files or even freezing-up their credit while incarcerated.

Carefully considering credit within the discussion of criminal justice reform may provide an important avenue for improving former inmates’ chances of successfully re-entering our society — all of which can help reduce the overall rate of crime. That makes banking on former inmates a worthy investment for all of us.

March 6, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 01, 2019

"The Lingering Stench of Marijuana Prohibition: People with pot records continue to suffer, even in places where their crimes are no longer crimes."

The title of this post is the title of this great new article by Jacob Sullum at Reason. I recommend the article in full, as it goes through the expungement law of each state which has now fully legalized marijuana for adult use and tells stories of individuals still stuggling with the lingering impact of marijuana prohibition. Here is part of the start of the piece:

Franklin Roosevelt, who took office in the final year of Prohibition, issued some 1,300 pardons for alcohol-related offenses during his first three terms. As a 1939 report from the Justice Department explained, "pardon may be proper" in light of "changed public opinion after a period of severe penalties against certain conduct which is later looked upon as much less criminal, or as no crime at all." The report cited Prohibition as "a recent example."

That logic made sense to governors as well. When Indiana repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1933, Gov. Paul McNutt (D) issued pardons or commutations to about 400 people who had been convicted of violating it. "If these men were kept in prison after the liquor law is repealed," he said, "they would be political prisoners."

Alcohol prohibition lasted 14 years. Marijuana prohibition has been with us almost six times as long. Police have arrested people for violating it about 20 million times in the last three decades alone. Many of those people were ultimately convicted of felonies that sent them to prison, although the vast majority were charged with simple possession and spent little or no time behind bars. Either way, marijuana offenders have had to contend with the lingering effects of a criminal record, which can shape people's lives long after they complete their sentences.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the classification of the offense, people who were caught violating marijuana laws may lose the right to vote, the right to own a gun, the right to drive a car (for up to a year), the right to live in the United States (for noncitizens), and the right to participate in a wide variety of professions that require state licenses. They may find it difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, obtain student loans, or travel to other countries. They may even be barred from coaching kids' sports teams or volunteering in public schools.

The employment consequences can be explicit, as with state laws that exclude people convicted of felonies from certain lines of work, or subtle, as with private businesses that avoid hiring people who have criminal records, possibly including arrests as well as convictions, because of liability concerns....

Such ancillary penalties seem especially unjust and irrational in the growing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In those places (which so far include 10 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands), people convicted under the old regime continue to suffer for actions that are no longer crimes.

California has gone furthest to address that problem. The state's 2016 legalization initiative authorized expungement of marijuana records, and a 2018 law will make that process easier. Demanding expungement as a remedy for injustice, activists in California emphasized the racially disproportionate impact of the war on weed: Black people are much more likely to have pot records than white people, even though they are only slightly more likely to be cannabis consumers.

Other states offer various forms of relief, ranging from generous to nearly nonexistent. All of them put the onus on prohibition's victims to seek the sealing or expungement of their criminal records, a process that can be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming....

People with marijuana records are looking for a way out in every state that has legalized recreational use, as the stories below show.

As some readers may recall, I wrote a paper last year on this topic under the title "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices".  I have also covered these issues a whole lot over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, and here is just a small part of that coverage:

March 1, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Failure should not be an option: Grading the parole systems of all 50 states"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Prison Policy Initiative.  Here is how this report gets started:

From arrest to sentencing, the process of sending someone to prison in America is full of rules and standards meant to guarantee fairness and predictability.  An incredible amount of attention is given to the process, and rightly so.  But in sharp contrast, the processes for releasing people from prison are relatively ignored by the public and by the law.  State paroling systems vary so much that it is almost impossible to compare them.

Sixteen states have abolished discretionary parole, and the remaining states range from a system of presumptive parole — where when certain conditions are met, release on parole is guaranteed — to having policies and practices that make earning release almost impossible.

Parole systems should give every incarcerated person ample opportunity to earn release and have a fair, transparent process for deciding whether to grant it.  A growing number of organizations and academics have called for states to adopt policies that would ensure consistency and fairness in how they identify who should receive parole, when those individuals should be reviewed and released, and what parole conditions should be attached to those individuals.  In this report, I take the best of those suggestions, assign them point values, and grade the parole systems of each state.

Sadly, most states show lots of room for improvement.  Only one state gets a B, five states get Cs, seven states get Ds, and the rest either get an F for having few of the elements of a fair and equitable parole system or a zero — for having passed laws to eliminate the option of release on parole.

February 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Haymond seemingly to become major Apprendi progeny altering federal supervised release revocations

Though I have not yet had time to read the full transcript of oral argument in United States v. Haymond, which is now available here, reading Amy Howe's argument analysis at SCOTUSblog suggests the tea-leaves are easy to read after the oral argument. The posting is titled "Court poised to rule for challenger in dispute over constitutionality of sex-offender law," and here are snippets:

This morning the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a dispute over the constitutionality of a federal law that requires convicted sex offenders to return to prison for at least five years – and possibly for the rest of their lives – if a judge finds that they have committed certain crimes. The defendant in the case, an Oklahoma man who served time for possessing child pornography and was then sent back to prison after he violated the terms of his supervised release, argues that the law violates his right to have his sentence determined by a jury, rather than a judge, beyond a reasonable doubt. Today the justices seemed overwhelmingly likely to agree with him, even if it was not entirely clear how they will remedy the constitutional violation....

Eric Feigin, an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, defended the law on behalf of the federal government. But he was quickly interrupted by a skeptical Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who asked him whether there was any other area of the law in which the United States allows a defendant to be sent to prison based on the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.

Feigin responded that both parole and probation operate in a similar way, but Sotomayor dismissed that analogy as comparing “apples and oranges.” With parole, she stressed, the state gives a benefit by cutting a sentence short. Where do we allow more prison time based on the preponderance of the evidence, she repeated?

Justice Brett Kavanaugh echoed Sotomayor’s thinking toward the end of Feigin’s initial stint at the lectern. When the government revokes an inmate’s parole, Kavanaugh suggested, it is simply denying a benefit. But when the government revokes an individual’s supervised release, he continued, that’s more like a penalty: The government is “adding a chunk of time on.”

Several justices also questioned the government’s contention that a jury was not required to find the facts leading to the conclusion that Haymond had violated the terms of his supervised release and the imposition of the new five-year sentence....

Only Justice Samuel Alito seemed to be squarely on the government’s side, warning that a ruling for Haymond could potentially “bring down the entire supervised release system.” As a result, much of the second half of the oral argument focused less on whether the law was unconstitutional and more on what should happen next.

I am not surprised, but I am still pleased, to learn that there may now be eight Justices prepared to extended Apprendi/Blakely rights to supervised release revocation. Now we wiat to see just how big the ultimate opinion will be (and how loudly Justice Alito will complain about more procedural rights for criminal defendants).

Some prior related posts:

February 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Will Haymond argument generate any haymaker questions as SCOTUS takes up supervised release?

Tomorrow the Supreme Court has a day of sentencing arguments scheduled, as the Justices will from counsel in United States v. Haymond and Mont v. United States.  Here are the questions presented and argument previews via SCOTUSblog:

United States v. Haymond Issue: Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit erred in holding “unconstitutional and unenforceable” the portions of 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) that required the district court to revoke the respondent’s 10-year term of supervised release, and to impose five years of reimprisonment, following its finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent violated the conditions of his release by knowingly possessing child pornography.

Mont v. United States Issue: Whether a period of supervised release for one offense is tolled under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(e) during a period of pretrial confinement that upon conviction is credited toward a defendant’s term of imprisonment for another offense.

For hard-core sentencing fans, the Haymond case could be the sleeper of the Term because a major ruling on constitutionally required procedures for revocation of supervised release could have profound implications not only for the federal system, but also potentially for some state systems. 

I doubt that oral argument will provide any big indication of just how big a ruling Haymond could produce, but I will be particular eager to see what the newer Justices might have to say about the kind of judicial factfinding that landed Andre Haymond back in prison for a (mandatory) five years after a judge found by only a "preponderance of the evidence" that he had violated the terms of his supervised release.  I think serious originalists should be troubled by the kinds of procedures used to deprive Haymond of his liberty, but the modern tradition of lax procedures at the "back-end" of sentencing systems is considerable.  I am hoping a number of Justices might take big swings with their questions in Haymond, but lately I am thinking I should not be expecting too much from the Justices.

Some prior related posts:

February 25, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Making a robust case for "Sending Our Prisoners to College"

Over at The American Conservative, Nila Bala and Emily Mooney have this lengthy new commentary titled "Sending Our Prisoners to College: Just think of it as an up-front investment, one that will pay dividends down the road." I highly recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

At the heart of conservative thinking are the tenets of individual dignity, public safety, family values, and fiscal prudence.  Yet far too often, society fails to apply these principles to the criminal justice system.  As a result, our current correctional system is failing all of us. It is clear that something must change.

Generally speaking, our correctional facilities do too little to prepare prisoners for their lives beyond prison walls.  Not surprisingly, recidivism rates are disturbingly high.  An estimate from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that almost three fifths of those released from prison will be convicted of a new offense within five years of their release....

No one should be shocked by these results; prisons are dehumanizing places that do not produce favorable outcomes for incarcerated individuals, families, or communities. If we want prisoners to treat others with human dignity when they re-enter society, we must practice these principles in our treatment of them....

We have a choice to make: we can let incarcerated individuals sit behind bars — isolated and idle — or we can take steps to provide education to incarcerated individuals who, as a result, will be more employable, stable members of our society when they are released.

The idea of educating incarcerated individuals has been met with strong opposition from those who question why Americans should be taxed so that those behind bars — who have done something wrong — receive a benefit.  This sentiment led to the elimination of Pell Grants for prisoners in 1994.  Pell Grants exist to provide all students with financial need with aid for college.  Without financial support from these grants, the number of postsecondary prison programs plummeted from 772 programs to just 8 within three years.

By the late 2000s, individuals on both sides of the aisle began to recognize that prison systems were not stopping the continuing tide of crime.  A more effective solution was needed to address the growing prison population.  Finally, in summer 2015, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program as part of the Experimental Sites Initiative.  This program allowed some colleges to apply to pilot the use of Pell Grants to increase access to postsecondary education in correctional facilities, with the federal government evaluating the academic and life outcomes of those who received postsecondary education.

We are now over two years into the experiment.  It is still too early to assess the initiative’s impact on recidivism rates.  However, removing barriers has increased enrollment: from fall 2016 to fall 2017, enrollment at Second Chance Pell experimental sites increased by 236 percent.  As of fall 2017, over 954 postsecondary credentials have been awarded, giving incarcerated individuals a better chance of obtaining employment through career technical certificates as well as two- and four-year degree programs.  Both the Trump administration and many leaders in the Republican Party have expressed interest in the program.

Given these promising signs, policymakers should consider expanding postsecondary education programming to prisoners nationwide.  Such programming brings gains for both prisoners and public safety, rebuilds families, is fiscally prudent, and acknowledges the individual dignity of those in prison....

Education has a transformative effect on incarcerated individuals and how they view themselves.  It affords individuals a glimpse at a new world of opportunities that they may not have been exposed to prior to incarceration.  In the classroom, prisoners are seen as individuals worthy of investment; their teachers and coursework engender a sense that they have something to offer to society.  Postsecondary courses take otherwise dead time and use it to engage prisoners in productive activity....

Practically speaking, postsecondary courses give incarcerated individuals something to do and help corrections personnel create a structured routine for participants.  These factors reduce the chance that prisoners will fill their time with less productive (and potentially criminal) activities.  Ultimately, postsecondary education can make the difficult job of corrections both easier and safer — for staff as well as those behind bars.

The transformative effects of postsecondary education do not stop behind prison walls; they also bring meaningful benefits to public safety.  A recent study found that earning a postsecondary degree while incarcerated may reduce an individual’s chances of re-arrest by 14 percent and their chances of a return to prison due to a new offense by 24 percent.  Though selection bias may come into play (i.e., students who choose to enroll in education programs may have characteristics that also make them less likely to re-offend), research has continued to identify such programming as a cost-effective model for increasing public safety....

Many people, and especially conservatives, have an instinctual bias against paying for prisoners’ education.  Yet the reality is we already pay a high cost — fiscal, social, and personal — because we do not educate most prisoners.  Indeed, the cost of an education is insignificant when compared to the costs our society suffers from criminal activity. Postsecondary education may require an upfront investment, but it’s one that will reduce the fiscal burden of government in the long run.

Our correctional system is in crisis.  Ten thousand individuals are released from prison every week, many of whom are wholly unprepared for the world they will enter. Our public safety, families, and economy are undermined when released individuals resort to crime.  We have tried building more prisons, increasing sentences, and making confinement more punitive.  But time and again, this “tough on crime” approach has not worked.  Instead, it has proven not only a fiscally wasteful policy that threatens public safety and family cohesion, but an affront to basic human dignity.

Supporting prison education does not mean being “soft on crime.”  Rather, it is one of the clearest, cheapest, and most effective methods to get control over crime and make our correctional facilities safer.  It paves the way for new family legacies based on education, productive labor, and prosperity, creating positive generational effects for years to come.

Conservatives should lead the way on repairing our broken criminal justice system.  Study after study has identified the provision of postsecondary education in prisons as a promising approach to preventing crime and to facilitating future economic opportunity.  The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program has created an opportunity to provide much-needed educational programs to incarcerated individuals. And, by expanding access to prison education programs, we can move toward an approach that embraces redemption, compassion, and second chances — and benefits society as a whole.

February 21, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Dark Figure of Sexual Recidivism"

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

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

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

February 14, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Saturday, February 02, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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

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

Summary

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

Key Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was not always this way.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Timely questions on enduringly important topics via The Crime Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

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

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

Report Summary

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Parole and probation reforms now the focus for powerful players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"Top Trends in State Criminal Justice Reform, 2018"

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La-1545291841-6s9kam0io9-snap-image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

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

Monday, December 03, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the most recent of many prior related posts:

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

Related materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"The Second Chances Gap"

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Pew reports on persons on probation or parole in US

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

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

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

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

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