Tuesday, February 20, 2024

New Prison Policy Initiative briefing makes arguments against jail construction arguments

This new briefing from Prison Policy Initiative authored by Emmett Sanders seeks to undercut arguments made in favor of jail construction. The full title of the posting highlights its themes: "Cautionary jails: Deconstructing the three “C”s of jail construction arguments. Communities across the country have been told that investing in new jail construction is the only way to solve old policy problems, but arguments for new jails can leave them with a billion-dollar case of buyer’s remorse."  Here is how the briefing begins (with links from the original):

Arapahoe County, Colorado, is expanding its jail just four years after taxpayers rejected a proposition to raise taxes for a new one.  The justification for the $46 million expansion? Proponents cite the jail’s age, overcrowding, and a sudden sensitivity to the need to treat rather than warehouse people with addiction issues; the sheriff claims, “people’s needs have changed.”  $30 million will come from COVID-19 pandemic relief funds; as the ACLU notes, using relief funds in this way is expressly forbidden by the Department of Treasury.

Similar arguments are being used to justify jail construction all around the country.  Often, this means ignoring voters’ wishes, misusing and redirecting millions of dollars from community-based resources, and saddling citizens with decades of tax liability.  New jail construction projects regularly fail to meet promises, leaving communities to deal with the aftermath.  Drawing from examples across the country, we break down three common arguments for jail construction, discuss how they have been used to build or expand jails, and highlight how reinvesting in cages is not a solution to social problems like crime and substance use.

Jail proponents usually rely on one or more of three central arguments to make their case:

  • The “Capacity” argument: a bigger jail is required to house everyone being incarcerated in the jurisdiction;
  • The “Contemporary” argument: new construction is needed to update an outdated jail;
  • The “Compassionate” argument: new construction is necessary to treat incarcerated people more humanely.

On a surface level, these three “C” arguments are compelling because they speak to very real issues. What these arguments often overlook, however, is that these issues are largely driven by bad policies that have drastically expanded reliance on packing people in cages.  Essentially, the prevailing claim is that the only way to solve the problem of incarceration is to expand our ability to incarcerate — when in fact, communities would be better served by shrinking jail populations.  This sunk cost fallacy often leaves communities without real solutions and holding the bag for decades.

February 20, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Another reminder of the long life (and possible ending) of life without parole sentences

This local news piece, headlined "Man, 77, released from prison after serving decades for 1965 murder conviction," caught my eye because of the numbers involved.  Here is part of story behind the numbers:

A 77-year-old man has been released from prison after receiving a new sentence for a 1965 felony murder conviction, in the wake of a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals declaring mandatory life without parole sentences for 18-year-old defendants unconstitutional.

Ivory Thomas was convicted in October 1965 at age 18 of first-degree felony murder for fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michael Railsback in Dueweke Park during a robbery. However, in 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that mandatory life without parole sentences for 18-year-old defendants violate the Michigan state constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Chandra Baker-Robinson resentenced Thomas this week to 40 to 60 years. Thomas was released Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections confirmed. He was serving his sentence at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer....

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office did not object to Thomas’ resentencing, according to a news release. Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office said Thomas has community support and Railsback’s family does not object to his release.

February 15, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 08, 2024

GAO releases big report examining BOP's use of "restrictive housing"

The United States Government Accountability Office recently released this big new report titled "Bureau of Prisons: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Restrictive Housing Practices." An introduction one-page to the document discusses "Why GAO Did This Study" and "What GAO Recommends" and "What GAO Found," and here are excerpts from this discussion:

DOJ’s BOP is responsible for confining individuals in safe, humane, and appropriately secure conditions. In certain circumstances, such as alleged or substantiated violence, BOP can move individuals to restrictive housing, and generally isolate them in cells for up to 23 hours per day. As of October 2023, BOP continued to house about 8 percent of its population (about 12,000 individuals) in these settings. Strengthening management of federal prisons was added to GAO’s high-risk list earlier this year.

Among its objectives, GAO was asked to examine the extent to which BOP (1) addressed recommendations from two prior restrictive housing studies; and (2) leveraged facility information to ensure restrictive housing policy compliance and enhance operations.

GAO analyzed BOP policies and data; interviewed BOP officials; and conducted non-generalizable interviews with staff and incarcerated individuals at five BOP facilities— selected to cover a range of restrictive housing unit types.

GAO is making eight recommendations to BOP, including that it assign responsibility and establish time frames for recommendation implementation and identify the cause of racial disparity in SMU placements. BOP concurred with the eight recommendations but raised related concerns; GAO discusses these in the report.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has not fully implemented 54 of the 87 recommendations from two prior studies on improving restrictive housing practices. The first study, completed by a BOP contractor in 2014, had 34 recommendations (16 of which are fully implemented.) The other evaluation, completed in 2016 by the Department of Justice (DOJ), had 53 recommendations (17 of those are fully implemented). A May 2022 Executive Order on criminal justice practices directed the Attorney General to ensure full implementation of the January 2016 recommendations. BOP has made slow progress due in part to not assigning responsibility for recommendation implementation to appropriate officials and not establishing associated time frames for completion....

During the 2014 contracted assessment, reviewers found inconsistencies in the application of subjective criteria used to place individuals in the special management unit (SMU)—one that is designed for individuals with heightened security concerns. GAO’s analysis of 2022 data appears to confirm that inconsistencies continued, resulting in equity concerns. Black individuals were 38 percent of the total BOP population but 59 percent of the SMU placements. In comparison, White individuals were 58 percent of the total BOP population and 35 percent of the SMU placements. In response to management challenges, earlier this year BOP closed its remaining SMU and has not yet decided on the future of such units. Analyzing the cause of the substantial racial disparity could inform BOP and DOJ decisions on the future of restricted housing and help ensure consistent and equitable treatment of incarcerated individuals.

February 8, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 01, 2024

"The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions: Deinstitutionalization and Mass Incarceration Nation"

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

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and our failed implementation of deinstitutionalization in the 1970s is a prime example of the point. In this symposium contribution — a response to Jeffrey Bellin’s book Mass Incarceration Nation — I offer a historical account of deinstitutionalization of state mental hospitals, tracing how severely mentally ill patients were discharged from state hospitals and eventually made their way back to secure beds, but in our nation’s jails and prisons instead.  Mental health and mass incarceration are not separate crises, I argue, but rather interconnected problems with an interconnected past that require an interconnected solution.  The lessons of deinstitutionalization’s failures can inform how our decarceration story plays out, offering an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of our past and move toward a more just, humane, and equitable future — a future that takes the “mass” out of mass incarceration.

February 1, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Notable data on the huge number of LWOP sentences in Louisiana

Death penalty practices in general, and individual death sentences in particular, garner a lot of attention in the US.  I understand how a wide array of salient capital issues and cases keeps these matters "evergreen" in legal and political discourse, even though I have long worried about capital cases and concerns problematically crowding out other matters of broader consequence.  (Many years ago, I wrote up some of these worries with a Supreme Court focus in an article titled "A Capital Waste of Time? Examining the Supreme Court's 'Culture of Death'."  Notably, for a host of reasons, the SCOTUS capital docket has shrunk considerably since I penned that piece in 2008.)

These concerns came to mind for me upon seeing this new Sentencing Project fact sheet titled "Life in Prison Without Parole in Louisiana."  The LWOP data in this document struck me in part because of how much attention was given in 2023 to possible clemency hearings for the 57 persons on Louisiana's death row after outgoing Gov John Bel Edwards said he opposed capital punishment (see some prior posts here and here.)  Gov Edwards got some attention, as detailed here, for commuting over 100 LWOP sentences, though seemingly the bulk of national advocacy and attention was given to a few dozen capital murders rather than the few thousand serving LWOP often for lesser crimes.  The start of the data brief documents the Pelican State's massive LWOP population:  

Louisiana’s share of people serving life without parole (LWOP) ranks highest per capita nationally and in the world. More than 4,000 Louisianans are serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole, amounting to 15% of this state’s prison population.  Between 1995 and 2020, the state added an average of 110 people each year to its total count of life-sentenced individuals.

A major driver behind the large share of people serving LWOP is the state’s automatic imposition of this sentence after conviction for second degree murder, making it one of only two states to impose LWOP in such instances.  Louisiana’s second degree murder statute includes felony murder and drug induced homicide offenses; these cases often include instances where the charged individual was not the direct perpetrator of the killing, nor intended to commit it, though they participated in an underlying felony related to the victim’s death.  It is important to note that felony murder laws such as that in Louisiana are not associated with a significant reduction in felonies nor have they lowered the number of felonies that become deadly.  These crime types are infrequently subject to LWOP sentences elsewhere, much less mandatorily imposed.  But in Louisiana, LWOP in response to second degree murder is both authorized and mandatory.

To provide a bit more perspective on these numbers, there are roughly twice as many persons serving LWOP sentences just in Louisiana than there are persons on death row throughout the United States.  (The Sentencing Project has calculated in prior reports that there are, roughly speaking, about 100 persons serving some form of a life sentence in the US for every person on death row.)

January 24, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2024

"'Mass Incarceration' Myths and Facts: Aiming Reform at the Real Problems"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Paul Robinson and Jeffrey Seaman now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Few claims have won such widespread acceptance in legal academia as the “mass incarceration” narrative: the idea that the rise in America’s prison population over the last half century was fueled largely by the needless and unjust imprisonment of millions of criminal offenders due to punitive changes in sentencing.  To many academics and activists, the question is not how accurate the mass incarceration narrative is, but how mass incarceration can be ended.  This Article argues the “mass incarceration” narrative is based on a series of myths and, as a result, many proposed reforms are based on a misunderstanding of America’s past and present carceral practices.  A more accurate understanding is needed to produce effective reform.

The central myth of the mass incarceration narrative is that exceptional and unjustified punitiveness largely explains America’s significant increase in prison population since the 1960s.  This explanation overlooks the numerous non-sentencing factors that increased incarceration: a near doubling in U.S. population, higher crime rates, increased justice system effectiveness, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, new and tightened criminalizations, worsening criminal offender histories, and more.  While this Article makes no attempt at statistical precision, these non-sentencing factors can easily explain most of America’s elevated incarceration compared to the 1960s — a fact in direct conflict with the mass incarceration narrative.  Additionally, while some punishments have increased in severity since the 1960s, most of these increases are likely to be seen as moving sentences closer to what the community – and many incarceration reformers – would believe is appropriate and just, as in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking, firearm offenses, and child pornography, among others.

Comparing America’s prison population to foreign countries, as the mass incarceration narrative often does, similarly overlooks the contributions of many of these non-sentencing factors and incorrectly assumes that a higher American per capita incarceration rate always reflects a problem with American, instead of foreign, practice.  While America can certainly learn from foreign countries, the reality is that many foreign sentencing practices have sparked chronic and widespread dissatisfaction abroad.  It may be that the dispute over incarceration practices is more a dispute between the elites and the community than a dispute between the U.S. and other democracies’ populations.

While all decarceration reformers should welcome a clearer picture of America’s incarceration practices, it is hard not to conclude that many mass incarceration myths were created deliberately by those who oppose not only incarceration but punishment generally.  For these activists, the mass incarceration narrative is primarily a means toward eliminating punishment, a goal that is difficult to pursue directly because it is so contrary to the views of the general population and even a majority of academia.

This Article is not pro-incarceration.  It subjects the mass incarceration narrative to much needed scrutiny precisely because reforming incarceration practices is necessary.  The criminal justice system should strive to deliver just punishment in the most societally beneficial way, which we believe means increasing the use of non-incarcerative sanctions.  The myths of the mass incarceration narrative frequently lead activists to overlook non-incarcerative reforms that deliver just punishment — a tragic failure because such reforms would have much stronger popular support than the anti-punishment or unsophisticated anti-prison reforms now pushed by the mass incarceration narrative.

Part I of the Article describes the mass incarceration myths that have become so broadly accepted.  Part II reviews the facts of American incarceration practice, which contradict many, if not most, aspects of the narrative.  Part III offers our reform proposals, which we believe more accurately address the problems in current incarceration practice. Central to those proposals are the use of creative non-incarcerative sanctions that still deliver punishment proportional to a nuanced assessment of each offender’s moral blameworthiness.

January 18, 2024 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

New Prison Policy Initiative briefing explores reported 2022 increase in incarcerated persons in US

Over at the Prison Policy Initiative, Wendy Sawyer has this new briefing titled "Why did prison and jail populations grow in 2022 — and what comes next?".  Like so many PPI reports, this one st filled with interesting data and helpful graphics.  It begins this way (link from the original):

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) recently released its annual reports on prison and jail populations in 2022, noting that the combined state and federal prison populations had increased for the first time in almost a decade and that jail populations had reached 90% of their pre-pandemic level. But what’s behind these trends? Do they just reflect another year of post-pandemic “rebound” or longer-term changes in crime or punishment? And what do these trends suggest about the road ahead for those working to end mass incarceration?

To answer these questions, we looked closely at the annual BJS data as well as 2022 crime and victimization data and criminal court case processing to get a better idea of the reasons behind the new numbers. We also looked at some more recent 2023 jail and prison data to see whether the 2022 uptick appears to have continued in 2023 (spoiler: it does). Finally, we looked at reports from over 20 states to see how states themselves understand these trends, and where they foresee their correctional populations heading in the future.

Ultimately, we conclude that these populations are increasing and can be expected to continue to climb in the next few years, not because of changes in crime but because (a) courts have largely recovered from the slowdowns caused by the pandemic and (b) many states have rolled back sensible criminal legal system reforms — or worse, have enacted legislation that will keep more people behind bars longer, despite decades of evidence that such policies don’t enhance public safety.

December 20, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Jail Inmates in 2022 -- Statistical Tables"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics this morning published a lot of new data about jail populations as of 2022.  This press release, titled "Local jails held 4% more people in 2022 than in 2021," provides these highlights regarding the data detailed in this 30-page report:

At midyear 2022, local jails held 663,100 persons in custody, 4% more than the year before and 21% more than at midyear 2020.  The number of persons in jail custody saw a 25% decline from 2019 to 2020 as local authorities reduced admissions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Though the jail population declined during the pandemic, by midyear 2022 it was back to 90% of its midyear 2019 size,” said BJS Acting Director Kevin M. Scott, PhD.

At midyear 2022, there were:

• 505,700 inmates held for a felony offense, accounting for 76% of the jail population

• 199 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, down from 237 per 100,000 at midyear 2012

• 915,900 jail beds in the United States, 72% of which were occupied

• 4.0 jail inmates for every correctional officer, up from 3.6 at midyear 2021 and 3.0 at midyear 2020.

From July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, persons admitted to jails spent an average of 32 days in custody before release, longer than the 23-day average a decade prior.  About 1,300 persons served weekend-only sentences on the weekend before the last weekday in June 2022, down from 10,400 in 2012. 

There were 92,900 females in local jails at midyear 2022, who accounted for 14% of the jail inmate population. From 2021 to 2022, the number of females in jail increased 9%, while the number of males increased 3%. From 2012 to 2022, the number of persons age 17 or younger in jail decreased from 5,400 to 1,900, averaging a 10% decline each year.

The racial and ethnic composition of the jail population remained stable from 2021 to 2022. At midyear 2022, about 48% of all persons held in jail were white, 35% were black and 14% were Hispanic.  American Indian or Alaska Native persons, Asian persons, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander persons and persons of two or more races together accounted for 3% of the total jail population.  From midyear 2012 to midyear 2022, the jail incarceration rate for Hispanic persons decreased at an average annual rate of 3.7%.  The rate decreased, on average, at 2.4% a year for black persons and 0.7% a year for white persons.

December 14, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

"The Role of Policy in Prison Growth and Decline"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper available via SSRN and authored by Derek Neal and Armin Rick. Here is its abstract:

Between 1975 and 2008, the US incarceration rate increased by roughly 400 percent.  Trends in crime rates, arrest rates per crime committed, conviction rates per arrest, and expected time-served in prison given conviction all influence trends in incarceration rates.  Available data do not allow researchers to precisely measure the contribution of each of these factors to the US prison boom.  However, increases in expected prison time-served among those arrested for many different offenses were the most important drivers of rising incarceration rates.  We argue that changes in policies that govern sentencing and parole are the likely drivers of these increases.  We also discuss potential reforms that may reduce expected time-served among convicted offenders while minimizing harm to public safety.

December 12, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Sentencing Project produces new fact sheets on "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Youth Incarceration"

I received via email an alter that The Sentencing Project has produced "new fact sheets show state-by-state incarceration rates by race and ethnicity" with respect to "youth incarceration."  These facts sheets are accessible at this link, and here is how the work is described at that webpage:

Despite significant drops in youth incarceration over a decade, youth of color remain vastly more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers.  New data released today by The Sentencing Project reveal Black youth and Tribal youths’ disproportionate incarceration is largely unchanged compared to 10 years prior, while Latinx youths’ incarceration disparities with their white peers have been reduced.

The Sentencing Project’s new fact sheets show state-by-state incarceration rates by race and ethnicity and highlight where the problem is getting worse and better.

December 12, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 07, 2023

"Firearms Carceralism"

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

Gun violence is a pressing national concern.  And it has been for decades.  Throughout nearly all that time, the primary tool lawmakers have deployed to staunch the violence has been the machinery of the criminal law.  Increased policing, intrusive surveillance, vigorous prosecution, and punitive penalties are showered on gun offenders.  This Article spotlights and specifies this approach — what it calls “firearms carceralism” — and details how a decades-long bipartisan consensus generated a set of state-centered solutions to gun violence that has not meaningfully impacted the problem.  Instead, those policies have exacerbated racial inequity and compounded civic and community harms.

The Article traces the escalating punitive measures visited on gun offenders over the past half century.  It first peers down into one microcosmic exemplar of firearms carceralism etched into federal mandatory minimum provisions and Supreme Court case law magnifying those penalties.  It describes how criminal justice reforms have traditionally excluded those whose offenses are categorized as violent, and specifically and emphatically those who offend with guns by their side.  It then draws out promising hints of a path to including gun offenders in efforts to reform the criminal legal system.  Most fundamentally, however, the Article wages a sustained critique of the system of firearms carceralism that fronts aggressive law enforcement and draconian terms of incarceration.  It describes the unjustifiable breadth and depth of these practices and the harmful, racialized, and exclusionary values they simultaneously draw from and reinscribe.

Finally, the Article argues in favor of three alternative paths for equitable peace and safety.  First, it outlines private sector steps to, for example, dampen illicit firearms supply.  Second, it highlights civil legal interventions like red flag laws and tort lawsuits against irresponsible gun sellers.  Third, and most prominently, it underscores the promise of community violence intervention and restorative justice programs to bring meaningful safety apart from the carceral tools of coercive control.

December 7, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Sentencing Project releases latest report on racial disparities, "One in Five: Racial Disparity in Imprisonment - Causes and Remedies"

As noted in this October post, The Sentencing Project is "producing a series of four reports examining both the narrowing and persistence of racial injustice in the criminal legal system, as well as highlighting promising reforms."  Today, The Sentencing Project released this latest report in this series, the third I believe, titled "One in Five: Racial Disparity in Imprisonment — Causes and Remedies."  Here is part of this new report's executive summary:

The United States experienced a 25% decline in its prison population between 2009, its peak year, and 2021.  While all major racial and ethnic groups experienced decarceration, the Black prison population has downsized the most.  But with the prison population in 2021 nearly six times as large as 50 years ago and Black Americans still imprisoned at five times the rate of whites, the crisis of mass incarceration and its racial injustice remain undeniable. What’s more, the progress made so far is at risk of stalling or being reversed.

This third installment of the One in Five6 series examines three key causes of racial inequality from within the criminal legal system. While the consequences of these policies and issues continue to perpetuate racial and ethnic disparities, at least 50 jurisdictions around the country — including states, the federal government, and localities — have initiated promising reforms to lessen their impact.

1. Laws and policies that appear race-neutral have a disparate racial impact....

2. Racial bias influences criminal legal practitioners’ use of discretion....

3. A financially burdensome and under-resourced criminal legal system puts people with low incomes, who are disproportionately people of color, at a disadvantage....

Prior related posts:

December 7, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 17, 2023

"Best Practices: Report on Improving Veterans’ Incarceration and Reentry in Florida"

Though I have missed Veterans Day by almost a week, I am still glad that I did not entirely miss this new report from the Florida Policy Project that has the title of this post. Here are some passages from the start of the report:

Efforts have been made to limit veterans' exposure to incarceration.  While these efforts may be diverting some veterans from prison, many veterans are still incarcerated in Florida and will eventually return to their communities. Understanding how to improve their incarceration experience and lower barriers to reentry will ensure that Florida's veterans have access to the services they earned and return to their communities better than when they left them. This report describes the problems Florida's incarcerated veterans face and offers examples of programs that could be implemented to help reduce recidivism and improve reentry....

Justice involved veterans have garnered increased attention in recent years. Several practices have been deployed to help divert veterans from incarceration.  The Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) program and the increased use of Veterans' Treatment Courts have helped respond to the needs of justice-involved veterans while maintaining accountability for criminal activity.  Despite these efforts, many veterans find themselves incarcerated in prisons around the country.  Although national estimates suggest that over 96,000 veterans are incarcerated in state prisons in the United States (accounting for about 8% of all people incarcerated in state prisons) many states underestimate their incarcerated veteran population.  For example, based on data from inmate self-identification, California estimated their incarcerated veteran population to be approximately 2.7% of inmates.  After accessing VA data, they found that 7.7% of their incarcerated population qualified as veterans — making them eligible for numerous federal benefits.

According to data from the Florida Department of Corrections, as of October 2023, 3,989 people in Florida prisons self-identified as veterans.  Over 99% of the 3,989 people are men (only 30 women in Florida prisons self-identified as veterans).  Accounting for approximately 5% of all people incarcerated in Florida prisons, as noted above, this proportion likely underestimates the true number of people incarcerated in Florida facilities who would qualify under federal statute as a veteran.  Difficulty in identifying veterans is exacerbated by the fact that Florida Statute and the United States Code differ in their definition of who qualifies as a veteran.

Though focused on Florida's prisons, the report closes with a helpful national review of "additional veteran-specific programs that Florida policymakers and correctional practitioners should consider implementing."  Anyone concerned about veterans involved with the criminal justice system should fine this report of interest, and a short form of the report here provides a useful overview.

Some of many prior related posts:

November 17, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative highlights ten stats about modern criminal justice system

Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative has produced this new item under the title "Ten statistics about the scale and impact of mass incarceration in the U.S."  The stats listed, along with PPI's signature visuals, actually cover a lot more than incarceration, and here is how the list is set up:

The United States’ reliance on incarceration outpaces most of the globe: every single state incarcerates more people per capita than virtually any independent democracy on Earth.  But the sheer magnitude and impact of a system so large can be hard to fully comprehend.  We looked back over some of the best criminal legal system research and chose these ten statistics as some of the most handy for advocates, policymakers, and journalists working to help the public appreciate just how far-reaching mass incarceration is in this country.

Here are a couple of the items from the list (with links from the original):

October 25, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Upon new review, split Ohio Supreme Court now upholds 65-year (functional life) prison term for woman who stole from nursing homes

As reported in this local article, the "Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday in a split decision upheld the 65-year sentence − a new ruling that unravels a previous decision by the high court."  The full opinion in State v. Gwynne, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-3851 (Ohio Oct. 25, 2023), which runs a total of 61 pages, is available at this link. The press article effectively provides a summary and the notable backstories around this latest ruling in a long-discussed Ohio case:

Susan Gwynne admitted that she stole thousands of items from dozens of residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Delaware and Franklin counties where she worked.  But she didn't think she should get 65 years in prison....

The case raises the questions: What is appropriate punishment for a first-time, non-violent felony offender, when consecutive sentences are merited and what oversight should appeals courts have?  The case also reflects what can happen when the balance of the Ohio Supreme Court shifts.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy said state law directs appellate courts to generally defer to trial courts' sentencing decisions.  She wrote that an appellate court could change a trial court's sentence if it "clearly and convincingly finds" the record doesn't support the trial court's findings.  The new opinion authored by Kennedy disagreed with the opinion issued in December 2022.

In December 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court said in a 4-3 ruling that trial courts need to consider an overall combined prison term when imposing consecutive sentences.  The court also found the Fifth District Court of Appeals erred in deciding it had no authority to review and vacate Gwynne’s 65-year sentence.  The high court sent it back to the appeals court to reconsider the length of Gwynne's sentence.

Once the control of the court shifted in January, the justices voted 4-3 to reconsider the December 2022 ruling.  Justice Melody Stewart wrote in her dissenting opinion that the court only decided to reconsider the case when Republican Joe Deters joined the court.  Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Deters to fill a vacancy created when Kennedy moved up to be chief justice.

She said that Kennedy's majority opinion will leave Ohio's law on consecutive sentencing − stacking prison time on multiple counts to run one after the other rather than concurrently − "so muddled that it will be virtually impossible for any defendant" to mount a successful challenge of a stacked sentence.  Trial court judges issue consecutive sentences in cases if they deem it necessary to protect the public and it'd be proportionate to the offenses.  Generally, though concurrent sentences are the default.

In a second dissent, Justice Jennifer Brunner noted other cases similar to Gwynne's crimes in which the defendants received far less prison time.  She said people who get 65 years in prison are almost always convicted of rape, kidnapping, torture or other heinous violent behavior.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, who has been vocally critical of the Gwynne case and recused himself, said "This sentence is exhibit A in how the state of Ohio needs a total overhaul of its criminal sentencing scheme and we need a database."  The current system allows for disparity − grossly excessive and unexplainedly lenient sentencing, he said....   Donnelly supports establishing a statewide criminal sentencing database, which would allow researchers, judges and the public to compare outcomes of similarly situated defendants.

Gwynne, now 62, is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.  Her release date is May 30, 2081 when she'd be 120-years-old.

October 25, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Lots of pictures and words about the growing share of persons growing old in prison

The New York Times has this extended opinion piece, with lots of storytelling and lots of pictures, under the headline "Elderly and Imprisoned: ‘I Don’t Count It as Living, Only Existing.’" The piece is authored by Carmilla Floyd and here are excerpts:

Between 1993 and 2013, the number of people 55 or older in state prisons increased by 400 percent. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that by 2030, people over 55 will constitute a third of the country’s prison population.

Research shows that most people age out of criminal conduct. Moreover, the Department of Justice asserts that the risk of elderly people reoffending after release is minimal. Yet decades of tough-on-crime sentencing and increasingly rigid release policies have left many to grow old in a system that was not designed to accommodate them. The cost is high, for both the residents and the public at large....

Reforms have ignited hope among residents who expected to die in prison. In California, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 provides a process for nonviolent offenders to be considered for parole if their release poses no unreasonable risk to the community. Also in California, the Elderly Parole Program lays out a path for some residents who are over 50 and who have served at least 20 years. The state has also established compassionate release programs for terminally ill or medically incapacitated residents.

Efforts to reduce the aging prison population are driven not solely by compassion but also by the tremendous cost of incarcerating older people. Residents do not qualify for Medicaid, leaving the state responsible for all care expenses. Older residents are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, dementia and cancer and to struggle with depression and anxiety.

Yet the rules and policies around parole decisions are often obstacles to releasing elderly residents, especially if they committed violent offenses in their youth. These secretive and subjective policies should be changed to focus on risk assessment and rehabilitation rather than the initial crime. Punitive sentences like life without parole should be abolished altogether.

October 22, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Detailing how sex offenders in New York can imprisoned long past their maximum sentences

The Nation has this notable lengthy new article detailing just how some New York offenders end up incarcerated well past the end of their actual sentences.  The article's full title previews the key points: "They Were Supposed to Be Free.  Why Are They Locked Up?: No one wants a person convicted of a sex offense in their neighborhood.  So New York keeps them in prison long past their release dates."  Here are some excerpts:

[Jory] Smith is one of hundreds of New Yorkers over the past decade whom the state has imprisoned past their maximum sentences, often for months or years.  It’s not because the judicial system is afraid that he’ll commit another crime—a judge had determined that Smith’s “risk of re-offense is low.”  He is caged there, essentially, because he is homeless.

In 2015, Smith was imprisoned for sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl, and state legislation severely restricts where people with such sex-offense convictions are allowed to live.  With few politicians willing to publicly defend people who have been found guilty of sex crimes, authorities have been free to push the boundaries of how to enforce the law.

The state redesignates people convicted of sex offenses who have served their maximum prison sentences as parolees. But unlike others on parole, some of them don’t get released.  They’re kept incarcerated until they can find a legal place to stay or until their parole is up — for Smith, that’s August 2025.  They wear normal prison uniforms.  They abide by prison visitation, meal, and recreation rules. Most sleep in general population units.

Many of them also work a prison job. And the state holds most of their wages in an account that they can access only upon their undetermined and mostly unknowable release date.  For his work assignments, Smith receives between $5 and $10 a week.  He called it “slave wages from slave labor.”

This system of prolonged incarceration started nearly a decade ago—and the number of people subjected to it has increased.  In 2015, it was 37, according to data obtained by Appellate Advocates and shared with New York Focus and The Nation.  By 2017, the number had risen to more than 100, and in the first half of 2019, it was 60 — almost 8 percent of the “parolees.”

New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or DOCCS, which runs the state prison and parole systems, wouldn’t offer updated annual numbers but said that, as of late July, it was holding 49 people past their release dates.  In a statement, the department said that it “follows the letter of the law” when it comes to confining people convicted of sex offenses.

Lawmakers have exacerbated the situation. And courts have so far greenlighted the practice — though that could soon change.  A judicial shake-up in New York this year saw one of the few people in power who was willing to criticize it become head of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.  And a years-in-the-making lawsuit challenging the practice is set to hit the court’s docket.

That case might be the last hope for change until the politics around sex crimes shift.  “It’s very sensitive — people have very emotional reactions to sex offenders,” said James Bogin, a senior supervising attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York and part of the team working on the Court of Appeals case.  “The idea that the end of the sentence doesn’t mean anything, that it doesn’t even lead to any change in your circumstance, is pretty unbelievable.”

October 19, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

"A Comprehensive Analysis of the Effect of Crime-Control Policies on Murder"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Carlisle Moody recently posted on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This study investigates the effects of most of the major firearm and crime control policies on murder.  We use two-way fixed-effects models based on state-level panel data from 1970-2018.  We include a comprehensive list of relevant policy variables to control for their influence in determining the effect of each.  We do a specification search using four commonly used econometric methods to estimate three models of the crime equation.  A Bonferroni correction is used to control for false rejections. A robustness check using new difference-in-differences estimators confirms the results.  We find that, with the possible exception of constitutional carry laws, no firearm policy can be shown to have a significant long-run effect on murder.  However, we find that the traditional policies of prison incarceration and police presence significantly reduce murder in the long run.  We also find that executions have no significant long-run effect on murder.  Finally, there is considerable evidence that three-strikes laws increase murder in the long run.

October 18, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Sentencing Project releases first in series of reports on the "narrowing and persistence" of racial disparities CJ system

The Sentencing Project has released this new report today titled "One in Five: Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration." The report's lengthy executive summary provides an overview of the report's these and concludes by nothing this report is the first in a series. Here are excerpts from the start and close of the executive summary:

Following a massive, four-decade-long buildup of incarceration disproportionately impacting people of color, a growing reform movement has made important inroads.  The 21st century has witnessed progress both in reducing the U.S. prison population and its racial and ethnic disparities.  The total prison population has declined by 25% after reaching its peak level in 2009. While all major racial and ethnic groups experienced decarceration, the Black prison population has downsized the most.  The number of imprisoned Black Americans decreased 39% since its peak in 2002.  Despite this progress, imprisonment levels remain too high nationwide, particularly for Black Americans.

Reforms to drug law enforcement and to sentencing for drug and property offenses, particularly those impacting urban areas which are disproportionately home to communities of color, have fueled decarceration and narrowed racial disparities.  These trends have led scholars to declare a “generational shift” in the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for Black men.  This risk has fallen from a staggering one in three for those born in 1981 to a still troubling one in five for Black men born in 2001.  Black women have experienced the sharpest decline in their imprisonment rate, falling by 70% between 2000 and 2021.

But ... progress in reducing racial disparity in the criminal legal system is incomplete and at risk of stalling or being reversed....

To help protect and expand the progress made so far, The Sentencing Project is producing a series of four reports examining both the narrowing and persistence of racial injustice in the criminal legal system, as well as highlighting promising reforms.  This first installment presents an overview of trends in prison and jail incarceration and community supervision. The next installment will examine the high levels of contact that police initiate, particularly with people of color, as well as differential crime rates.  The final reports will examine key drivers of disparity from within the criminal legal system and promising reforms from dozens of jurisdictions around the country.

October 11, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (16)

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

"The Abolition and Retention of Life Without Parole in Europe: A Comparative and Historical Perspective"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Mugambi Jouet and available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Life without parole is increasingly recognised as another death penalty in dooming prisoners to die behind bars.  Abolitionism and retentionism now characterise its state in Europe on the tenth anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights' landmark Vinter decision.  In abolishing irreducible life sentences, Vinter crystallised a long-term evolution in prisoners’ rights since the Enlightenment.  Meanwhile, enduring animosity toward prisoners has led their rights to recurrently become the stage for wider debates about the legitimacy of European institutions.  The United Kingdom’s threats to leave the European Court of Human Rights notably enabled it to exempt itself from Vinter.  Still, the European project retains numerous supporters, which helps explain why life without parole’s abolition is making progress in continental Europe, as confirmed by comparisons with the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  The Article ultimately demonstrates that prisoners’ rights are both a microcosm of broader questions regarding European integration and a benchmark of human dignity’s historical evolution.

October 4, 2023 in Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 30, 2023

"Cheap on Punishment: Examining the Impact of Prison Population Racial Demographics on State-Level Corrections Spending"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Joshua Williams and Paige Vaughn recently published online at Justice Quarterly.  Here is its abstract:

Research has explored the effects of various state-level characteristics, such as racial composition and economic conditions, on correctional budgetary decisions.  However, researchers have yet to consider how the racial makeup of state prison populations themselves may impact subsequent corrections spending decisions.  Drawing on work suggesting that people of color are simultaneously over-punished and neglected by criminal justice systems, and utilizing a time-series cross-section analysis of 50 states from 1979 through 2017, we explore differences in state budgetary allocations for correctional expenditures based on the racial demographics of prison populations.  We find that the relationship between the Black-to-White incarceration ratio and spending on corrections is curvilinear: once a tipping point of Black-to-White incarceration is reached, spending on corrections decreases.  This finding is especially pronounced in Southern and Midwestern states.  Overall, our results provide a strong starting point for understanding the ways in which Black Americans are neglected in the incarceration setting.

September 30, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative provide updated data on "incarceration stats by race, ethnicity, and gender" in all states

Prison Policy Initiative has this new briefing by Leah Wang fully titled "Updated data and charts: Incarceration stats by race, ethnicity, and gender for all 50 states and D.C.: New data visualizations and updated tables show the national landscape of persistent racial disparity in state prisons and local jails."  here is how the briefing begins (with links from the original):

The best and latest criminal legal system data are often scattered across different government agencies, in incompatible formats, and difficult to compare.  To make the most useful information more accessible, we make the underlying data for our timely reports and briefings available in our Data Toolbox, and create state-specific graphics on our comprehensive State Profiles pages.  Today, we’ve added a rich new series of resources for our users of our work:

First, we now have downloadable spreadsheet of the most recently available incarceration data for people in state prisons and in local jails, by race and ethnicity and by sex, for all 50 states and D.C.  Unlike other datasets, ours provides apples-to-apples state comparisons in three formats (counts, rates, and percentages): We’ve done the math to standardize incompatible measurements found in the various original data sources.

Second, we’ve updated over 100 of the key graphics on our State Profiles pages showing prison and jail incarceration rates by race and ethnicity, and how the racial composition of each state’s prisons and jails compare to the total state population.

September 27, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

"Moral Judgments and Knowledge about Felony Murder in Colorado: An Empirical Study"

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

With funds provided by a Hughes Pilot grant, I conducted a survey of 523 Colorado residents to determine their knowledge of and moral attitudes towards the felony murder rule.  The survey showed that only a very small fraction of the participants knew that unintended killings in the course of predicate felonies was murder punishable at the time by life without the possibility of parole.  Similarly, only a very small fraction of survey participants believed that persons who committed unintended killings in the course of predicate felonies deserved a murder conviction or sentence of mandatory life without the possibility of parole.  Rather, the mean sentence that survey participants considered just for felony murder was just over six years in prison.  These results substantially undercut the two main justifications given for felony murder, namely deterrence and retribution.

September 26, 2023 in Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

"The COVID-19 Pandemic, Prison Downsizing, and Crime Trends"

The title of this post is the title of this article recently published in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice and authored by Charis Kubrin and Bradley Bartos.  Here is its abstract:

California has fundamentally reformed its criminal justice system.  Since 2011, the state passed several reforms which reduced its massive prison population. Importantly, this decarceration has not harmed public safety as research finds these measures had no impact on violent crime and only marginal impacts on property crime statewide.  The COVID-19 pandemic furthered the state’s trend in decarceration, as California reduced prison and jail populations to slow the spread of the virus.  In fact, in terms of month-to-month proportionate changes in the state correctional population, California’s efforts to reduce overcrowding as a means to limit the spread of COVID-19 reduced the correctional population more severely and abruptly than any of the state’s decarceration reforms.  Although research suggests the criminal justice reforms did not threaten public safety, there is reason to suspect COVID-mitigation releases did.  How are COVID-19 jail downsizing measures and crime trends related in California, if at all?  We address this question in the current study.  We employ a synthetic control group design to estimate the impact of jail decarceration intended to mitigate COVID-19 spread on crime in California’s 58 counties.  Adapting the traditional method to account for the “fuzzy-ness” of the intervention, we utilize natural variation among counties to isolate decarceration’s impact on crime from various other shocks affecting California as a whole.  Findings do not suggest a consistent relationship between COVID-19 jail decarceration and violent or property crime at the county level.

September 17, 2023 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Notable data from BOP Director on FIRST STEP, compassionate release and home confinement

The US Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” and BOP Director Colette Peters submitted written testimony that is available here.  Much is worth reading from that document, and I thought some of the data on "First Step Act Implementation" and on "Compassionate Release and Home Confinement" was worth blogging:

Since January 2020, more than 104,000 incarcerated individuals have actively participated in approximately 110 evidence-based recidivism-reducing (EBRR) programs and productive activities (PAs) within the Bureau. In that same timeframe, those individuals have completed more than 370,000 EBRRs and PAs.

In 2019, we adopted the new Good Conduct Time calculation required by the FSA and implemented FSA time credit provisions. Initially, implementing the FSA time credit provisions meant interim procedures with manual calculation of credits from the time the language of the final rule was approved until an automated system could be developed and tested. Then, in 2022, we transitioned from manual to automated FSA time credit calculations, streamlining and accelerating the process. In November 2022, we published the policy on FSA time credits to formalize implementation of the earned time credits rule, with subsequent revisions in February and March of 2023. This new policy was designed to streamline the calculation of credits and maximize an individual’s ability to earn and apply these credits when engaging in programming. We have also implemented revisions to our time credit calculation procedures in response to concerns of Congress and stakeholders and applied those changes for eligible individuals....

Additionally, we fine-tuned our PATTERN recidivism reduction tool worksheet by including program completion factors and sanitizing sensitive information, such as Walsh Act criteria. We made functional and technical improvements, including improving auditing capabilities and error reduction by implementing distinct ineligibility codes. We made these important changes to ensure that those in our care who are earning credits get their credits. From January 2022 through August 31, 2023, we released approximately 22,940 individuals through FSA, and approximately 16,125 were released from Residential Reentry Centers.

We support the Department’s development of the PATTERN tool (through the National Institute of Justice), including its evolution to address concerns around racial and ethnic disparities in the tool. In March 2023, the Department conducted its second annual revalidation of the PATTERN risk assessment tool. Following this, the Bureau began utilizing PATTERN version 1.3 with revised risk level categorizations. This addressed previous racial and ethnic disparities in the tool and increased opportunities for eligible individuals to apply earned time credits.

Compassionate Release. The Bureau continues in its efforts to support compassionate release, wherein the sentencing court is able to reduce a sentence due to extraordinary and compelling reasons or for certain individuals.  The FSA went into effect on December 21, 2018, and since that time, we have released a total of around 4,606 individuals who were under our care through compassionate release.  Of that group of individuals, 129 were released through compassionate release on a motion initiated by the Bureau, and 4,477 received compassionate release after a defense motion.  So far in the calendar year 2023 (CY23), approximately 216 individuals under our care have been released through compassionate release.  Of those, we initiated the motions for compassionate release for 9 of those individuals, while 207 received a compassionate release after a defense motion.  Requests for compassionate release receive close and individualized review based on extraordinary and compelling circumstances.

As part of the compassionate release review process, we collaborate closely with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to determine if petitioning the sentencing court for compassionate release on behalf of an individual is warranted.  While we work to review and handle compassionate release requests accurately and efficiently, ultimately, compassionate release decisions rest with the sentencing courts.  We have considered and will be prepared to comply with the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s proposed amendments to compassionate release as they relate to individuals who are victims of sexual assault while in our custody, which will take effect in November 2023.

Home Confinement. To ensure public safety and effective reentry with the home confinement provision authorized under the FSA, we rely on our Residential Reentry Centers.  Those contractors work diligently to create a personalized reentry process, including individual-specific employment guidance, financial management advice, and more. This approach equips individuals with tools for a responsible and successful transition back into their communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enabled many individuals in Bureau facilities to be placed in home confinement for health and safety. We tracked the individuals under our care whom we moved into home confinement.  From March 2020 through June 24, 2023, we transferred approximately 13,666 individuals into home confinement through the CARES Act, with the vast majority of those individuals completing their sentence in home confinement without returning to an institution.  Although the specific authority for new CARES Act home confinement placements has ended, those already placed remain in their placements.  As of August 31, 2023, approximately 3,374 individuals remain in home confinement in accordance with applicable rules.  The vast majority 9  of those placed on home confinement have complied with program rules, and less than 0.05% have been returned to custody for committing new crimes.

UPDATE: This AP article reporting on the hearing is headlined "Senators clash with US prisons chief over transparency, seek fixes for problem-plagued agency."

September 13, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

CCJ publishes big new data resource, "The Footprint," which seeks to track the size of America's criminal justice system

The Council of Criminal Justice (CCJ) today published this notable new data resource titled "The Footprint: Tracking the Size of America's Criminal Justice System."  Here is how the resource introduces the data it covers on its landing page:

The overall size, or “footprint,” of the American criminal justice system remains well above historical levels, but it has shrunk substantially in recent years.  This series of interactive charts summarizes trends in crime, arrests, and correctional control (incarceration and community supervision), comparing current levels with their most recent peaks or valleys.  Time periods vary due to data availability, and where reliable data are available, trends in race and sex are also presented.

COVID-19 resulted in significant changes in crime patterns and the operations of law enforcement agencies, courts, correctional agencies, and paroling authorities.  Because of the unique influence of the pandemic across the system, analyses also examine the early effects of the pandemic on crime, arrests, and correctional control.

The first section provides a high-level overview of crime, arrest, and incarceration trends in recent decades. The following sections take a closer look at trends in each area, broken down by age, crime type, race, and sex.

The data assembled here, which provides historical national data trends based on already reported public data, are great to have in one place. Sentencing fans may be especially interested in the data trends regarding probation, parole, jails, state prisons and federal prisons, but all the data is really fascinating in all sorts of particulars.

September 12, 2023 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (22)

Monday, September 11, 2023

New PPI briefing argues housing "is one of our best tools for ending mass incarceration"

Brian Nam-Sonenstein writing for the Prison Policy Initiative has this new briefing developing the case for the claim that ending homelessness can help reduce incarceration.  The briefing has this full title: "Seeking shelter from mass incarceration: Fighting criminalization with Housing First; Providing unconditional housing with embedded services can reduce chronic homelessness, reduce incarceration, and improve quality of life – especially for people experiencing substance use disorder and mental illness."  And here is how the briefing gets started (with links from the original): 

Housing is one of our best tools for ending mass incarceration. It does more than put a roof over people’s heads; housing gives people the space and stability necessary to receive care, escape crises, and improve their quality of life. For this reason, giving people housing can help interrupt a major pathway to prison created by the criminalization of mental illness, substance use disorder, and homelessness.

For this briefing, we examined over 50 studies and reports, covering decades of research on housing, health, and incarceration, to pull together the best evidence that ending housing insecurity is foundational to reducing jail and prison populations. Building on our work detailing how jails are (mis)used to manage medical and economic problems and homelessness among formerly incarcerated people, we show that taking care of this most basic need can have significant positive downstream effects for public health and safety.

September 11, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Severe federal sentences for Proud Boys and other Jan 6 defendants generating notable commentary

The lengthy federal prison sentences recently given to Proud Boy leaders and others — eg, 22 years for Enrique Tarrio, 18 years for Ethan Nordean, 17 years for Joe Biggs — has generated a lot of intriguing commentary from a lot of intriguing sources.  Here are some pieces reporting on notable comments and some pieces that are the notable comments:

From Florida Politics, "Ron DeSantis floats ‘pardons and commutations’ after Proud Boy sentenced to 22 years"

From The Messenger, "Proud Boys to Argue ‘Trial Tax’ Was Imposed on Them After Rejecting Plea Deals"

From the National Post, "J.D. Tuccille: The injustice of jailing Jan. 6 rioters for 20 years"

From the New York Times, "DeSantis and Ramaswamy Call Proud Boys’ Sentences ‘Excessive’ and ‘Wrong’"

From Northeastern Global News, "Leaders in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol were sentenced to about 20 years in prison. Was that fair?"

From USA Today, "'Trial tax': Proud Boys members complain their long prison sentences punish them for demanding a trial"

From the Washington Post, "They confronted Proud Boys but don’t celebrate their prison sentences"

From WLRN, "Enrique Tarrio's mother says her son was a 'political pawn'"

September 10, 2023 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, August 31, 2023

"Extraordinary Punishment: Conditions of Confinement and Compassionate Release"

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

People experience severe forms of harm while incarcerated including medical neglect, prolonged solitary confinement, sexual and physical violence, and a host of other ills.  But civil rights litigation under the Eighth Amendment — the most common vehicle through which people seek to redress these harms — presents significant practical and doctrinal barriers to incarcerated plaintiffs.  Most notably, the Eighth Amendment’s “deliberate indifference” standard asks not whether a person has been harmed, but instead requires plaintiffs to demonstrate a criminally reckless mental state on the part of prison officials.  Further, Eighth Amendment remedies are limited to damages or injunctions, which may not adequately redress a specific harm that a person is suffering.  For these reasons, the Eighth Amendment has often fallen far short of providing litigants adequate relief.

At the same time, once a person is sentenced, the original sentencing judge generally has no control over whether a harm suffered in prison is remedied.  However, since the passage of the First Step Act of 2018, people incarcerated in the federal system have a new vehicle for getting these kinds of claims into court: federal compassionate release. Compassionate release motions are heard by the original sentencing judge, who has the authority to reduce a person’s sentence if they can demonstrate, among other things, “extraordinary and compelling” reasons (ECRs) that warrant relief.

In April of 2023, the Federal Sentencing Commission adopted amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that drastically expanded the ECR definition to include claims based on the types of harms have been traditionally litigated under the Eighth Amendment.  These changes represent a radical and potentially paradigm-shifting reform to federal sentencing law and give district courts enormous discretion to reexamine federal sentences.  Given the challenge of redressing harms under the Eighth Amendment, this Article argues that the expansion of compassionate release ECRs to encompass harmful conditions of confinement makes doctrinal sense and allows for a more appropriate remedy to harms done in prison than traditional civil remedies.

August 31, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Recapping some recent notable reports on prison realities and more from the Prison Policy Initiative

I recently received a helpful review of just some of the remarkable materials and data assembled by the Prison Policy Initiative on an array of prison- and punishment-related topics.  I am pretty sure I have blogged about some or even most of these reports, but I thought it still helpful to reprint here links to the reports and the brief summaries sent my way:

August 21, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

"Prison Abolition Without the Ethic"

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

Prison abolitionists stand for an “ethic.”   The ethic rejects punishment of all kinds, as well as capitalism broadly understood.  By focusing on their ethic, abolitionists mask strong arguments for prison abolition -- or at least something like it -- from within more common commitments.  The ethic therefore undermines actual abolition in the name of a distinct and contestable set of theories.

August 20, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Intriguing accounting of Texas punishment numbers

The latest issues of Texas Monthly includes "a roundup of the many categories — both good and bad — in which Texas ranks number one. "  One notable part of the roundup is titled "When It Comes to People Behind Bars, Texas Is Way Ahead," and here is part of the discussion (with links from the original:  

For years our elected officials — sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, and governors — have won office by promising to be tough on crime.  The most infamous metric for this is that we’re the number one state in executions.  Since 1976, when the Supreme Court declared the death penalty was once again constitutional, we’ve killed nearly five times more convicts than Oklahoma, our nearest competitor.  (Our northern neighbor, however, executes more prisoners per capita than we do; we’re number two by that measure.) 

But we’re also the leader when it comes to living, breathing subjects of the criminal justice system: no state has more inmates than Texas.  (Though, again, on a per capita basis we don’t come out on top; we’re number ten, behind some much smaller states.) We weren’t always number one; California, with a far bigger population, used to outdo us.  Then in the nineties, Governor Ann Richards led an expansion of prisons and a tightening of parole rules that pushed us into the top spot.  Between 1993 and 1998 the population of our state prisons, state jails, and private facilities more than doubled, to 143,889 — more than the entire population of Waco.  Ten years later we reached 156,126 inmates.  Yet, as crime rates fell, so did those numbers, aided, to the surprise of many, by conservative politicians affiliated with the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime initiative, which framed prison issues as economic issues.  Texas began sending nonviolent inmates to community-based programs designed to divert them from future crimes, and it started closing prisons, not building new ones.  Then, during the pandemic, law enforcement curtailed arrests, the court system slowed down its processing, and TDCJ took fewer transfers from county lockups.  By April 2021 Texas had 116,926 inmates in its prisons.

But now, as society is getting back to normal, our numbers are climbing once again.  As of January, Texas had 124,893 inmates. California, with 10 million more residents, had about 29,300 fewer inmates.  And this is all part of a much larger web. Texas has more inmates in “administrative segregation” — solitary confinement in all but name — than any other state, more than 3,000.  And our numbers are shockingly high when it comes to prisons without air-conditioning, incidents of prison rape, and unpaid inmate labor.

None of these changes take into account our 252 county jails, where, by some accounts, on average more than 60,000 men and women await a trial, a plea bargain, or a transfer to state prison.

August 17, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Deep dive into stores of juvenile LWOP sentences and their review

The New York Times has this lengthy new feature on extreme sentencing of juvenile offenders, with a focus particularly on happenings in Philadelphia.  I recommend the full article, which is headlined "Sentenced to Life as Boys, They Made Their Case for Release."  Here are some excerpts that highlight some of the data reported within broader story-telling:

Philadelphia lawyer named Bradley Bridge ... began the enormous undertaking of compiling a list of all the prisoners in Pennsylvania who were sentenced to life as minors. No one in the state had ever kept track of this group, who came to be called “juvenile lifers” in the courts and “child lifers” by some of the inmates themselves.

He expected the list to be long. He didn’t expect it to eventually include more than 500 names, nearly one-fifth of the more than 2,800 child lifers in the country. More than 300 of them had come through Philadelphia’s system, making a city with less than 1 percent of the country’s population responsible for more than 10 percent of all children sentenced to life in prison without parole in the United States. No other city compared.  Even more glaring: More than 80 percent of Philadelphia’s child lifers were Black. Nationally, that figure was roughly 60 percent....

In 2008, the Equal Justice Initiative found 73 children who had been given sentences of life without parole when they were 13 and 14 years old.  And all of the people who received those sentences for crimes other than homicide were children of color. “It just said something about the way in which race was a proxy for a presumption of dangerousness, this presumption of irredeemability,”[Bryan] Stevenson said....

The Supreme Court’s rulings in Miller and Montgomery marked an important rethinking of culpability when it comes to children who commit the most serious crimes.  But the practical implications of the rulings were limited: the court hadn’t abolished all life without parole sentences for children — only ones where state laws made the sentences mandatory. And while child lifers now had a chance to make a case for their release, prosecutors could still seek new life sentences.  In other states with high numbers of child lifers, including Michigan and Louisiana, as well as some parts of Pennsylvania, that’s just what they did.

Of the more than 300 child lifers who became eligible for resentencing in Philadelphia in 2016, all but about a dozen have been resentenced, and more than 220 have been released, the majority of them on lifetime parole.  That’s nearly a quarter of the roughly 1,000 total child lifers who have been released across the country.  These numbers make Philadelphia, once an outlier in imprisoning minors for life, now an outlier in letting them go.  By 2020, the city had resentenced more child lifers than Michigan and Louisiana combined. What set the city apart, said Mr. Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, was not just the buy-in from local officials and public defenders, but also the community of child lifers who became their own best argument for release....

Since the Supreme Court decisions, more than half of all states have outlawed life without parole sentences for children altogether, reducing the number of child lifers left in the country to fewer than 600, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a national nonprofit.  Mr. Stevenson’s organization is now working to raise the minimum age at which children can be tried as adults in 11 states, including Pennsylvania, where there is no age floor.  Other states are considering abolishing mandatory life without parole sentences for people under 21.

August 16, 2023 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, August 05, 2023

"Beyond Bars: A Path Forward from 50 Years of Mass Incarceration in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this new (open access) book editted by Kristen Budd, David Lane, Glenn Muschert and Jason Smith. Here is how it is described:  

The year 2023 marks 50 years of mass incarceration in the United States.  This timely volume highlights and addresses pressing social problems associated with the U.S.’s heavy reliance on mass imprisonment.  In an atmosphere of charged political debate, including “tough on crime” rhetoric, the editors bring together scholars and experts in the criminal justice field to provide the most up-to-date science on mass incarceration and its ramifications on justice-impacted people and our communities.

This book offers practical solutions for advocates, policy and lawmakers, and the wider public for addressing mass incarceration and its effects to create a more just, fair and safer society.

The Table of Contents lists 10 substantive chapters in this text, and here are just a few of the many chapters that may be of particular interest to sentencing fans:

Mass incarceration’s lifetime guarantee by Ashley Nellis

Mass incarceration and the collateral problems of parole by Kimberly D. Richman

The end of mass incarceration: opportunities for reform by Francis T. Cullen, Justin T. Pickett, and Cheryl Lero Jonson

The final chapter of this book, authored by Cullen et al., develops the thesis that the "era of mass incarceration has ended," and it concludes with this paragraph:

In closing, historical turning points are not always apparent to those in their midst but become evident only in retrospect some years later.  Thus, we trust we have been convincing in showing that mass incarceration has ended — both in terms of the growth of prison populations and the punitive logic that fueled the movement.  This good news, however, will be squandered if a collateral movement to transform American corrections lays dormant.  However, a shortcut may be possible.  It is insufficient to identify past mistakes; future choices must occur.  The opportunity for change is palpable.  Are we up to creating a new era of reform — a humanitarian revolution in corrections?

August 5, 2023 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative spotlights the "aging prison population"

The Prison Policy Initiative's by Emily Widra has produces this notable new briefing titled "The aging prison population: Causes, costs, and consequences." Here are some excerpts (click through for lots of helpful links and graphics):

New data from the Census Bureau reveals that the U.S. median age rose to a high of 38.9 years: an increase of three and half years in the last 23 years. The U.S. prison population is aging, too, and at a much faster rate than the nation as a whole — and older adults represent a growing portion of people who are arrested and incarcerated each year. The aging of the prison population is the result of a series of disastrous policy decisions in policing, sentencing, and reentry over roughly the last half-century. And while prisons and jails are unhealthy for people of all ages, older adults’ interactions with these systems are particularly dangerous, if not outright deadly....

According to the most recent available data on local jails across the U.S., from 2020 to 2021 — during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was particularly dangerous for older adults — the segment of the jail population aged 55 and older expanded by a greater proportion than any other age group, growing 24% compared to an average increase of 15% across all other age groups.

Meanwhile, older people make up five times as much of the prison population as they did three decades ago. From 1991 to 2021, the percentage of the state and federal prison population nationwide aged 55 or older swelled from 3% to a whopping 15%. This growth is seen even more acutely when looking at people serving life sentences: by 2020, 30% of people serving life sentences were at least 55 years old, with more than 61,400 older adults sentenced to die in prison....

State and federal sentencing policies from the 1970s to the 2000s resulted in what researchers have called “a prescription for an increase in older inmates: more prisoners, more prison beds, more lifers, and less parole.” State and federal laws enacted in this time period resulted in more incarcerated people serving longer sentences via policies that:

  • Increased sentence lengths and established mandatory minimums,
  • Mandated extremely long sentences for individuals convicted of three felony offenses (“three strikes” laws),
  • Required people to serve upwards of 85% of their sentence in prison (“truth in sentencing” laws) before becoming parole eligible,
  • Abolished parole,
  • Reduced the allowed time earned for good conduct, and
  • Instituted other “tough on crime” sentencing laws.

Longer and harsher sentences top the list of the most obvious mechanisms by which the national prison population exploded in the 1990s and 2000s, but they also created the problem of today’s aging prison population: many of the people who received these sentences are still behind bars now that they are twenty or thirty years older.

August 2, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

New Prison Policy Initiative briefing on "Heat, floods, pests, disease, and death: What climate change means for people in prison"

Leah Wang has this new briefing for the Prison Policy Initiative titled "Heat, floods, pests, disease, and death: What climate change means for people in prison."  The piece's subheading summarizes its themes: "Without consistent access to relief or safer environments, incarcerated people are punished with deadly heat, increased biological threats, and flimsy emergency protocols. We explain new epidemiological evidence confirming that heat and death are linked in prisons nationwide, and explain why the climate-change-induced plight of people in prisons deserves swift action."

Here is how this timely new report gets started (links left out, head to PPI to see all the graphics and links):

Heatwaves and extreme weather events are now commonplace.  States across the South and Southwest are experiencing record high temperatures (during the day and at night, which is a big deal).  Meanwhile, the Northeast has been drenched in more frequent, torrential rainfall and flash flooding.  Prisons and jails nationwide aren’t insulated from these events, yet we rarely see how correctional staff ensure the safety of the millions of people locked within them.

Hopefully, readers have seen our prior work — or any of several other powerful essays — explaining the ways in which extreme heat, combined with a lack of air-conditioned spaces and cooling measures, is especially harmful to people behind bars.  Some have described the experience as being trapped in heat-retaining “convection ovens.”  We’ve also highlighted some of the environmentally disastrous ways prisons are sited and operated.

In this briefing, we present new findings from a nationwide, epidemiological study showing a strong relationship between extreme heat and deaths in prisons — especially in the Northeast.  We also explain why extreme heat isn’t an isolated danger — it’s wrapped up in other hazards like pests and diseases guaranteed to make prison life miserable, if not fatal.

July 19, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (22)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Highlighting new research with encouraging news about incarceration trends

Writing in the Washington Post, Charles Lane has this great new opinion piece headlined "New data show a dire forecast about incarceration rates didn’t come true." I recommend the whole piece, and here are a few highlights:

Few data points have more dramatically illustrated the disparate racial impact of incarceration in the United States than this statistic, first calculated in a 2003 Justice Department-sponsored study: If imprisonment rates remained the same as they were in 2001, then 1 out of every 3 Black men born that year could expect to be put behind bars during his lifetime. The figure for White men, by contrast, was 1 of every 17.  Hammered home in political speeches, media coverage and activist websites, that projection did much to galvanize public opinion in favor of criminal justice reform.

And yet it did not actually materialize.  The overall U.S. incarceration rate peaked in the three-year period of 2006 to 2008, according to Pew Research, and it has been declining since then.  What’s more, the rate for Black men fell faster during the past two decades than that for White men (and other groups), contrary to expectations in 2003 — and to much conventional wisdom today.

Therefore, since the 2003 Justice Department study appeared, chances that Black men would not go to prison improved so much that the actual lifetime “incarceration risk” for those born in 2001 turned out to be fewer than 1 in 5 — about 40 percent lower than the oft-cited 1 in 3 figure.  This outcome connotes a modest, but real, reduction in racial inequality generally.  Amid a national criminal justice debate that often understandably focuses on the problems and injustices that still need to be solved, encouraging data deserve attention, too.

The hopeful findings about racially disparate incarceration rates emerge from a study to be published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Demography.  It includes such remarkable data as the fact that, whereas 5,159 out of every 100,000 Black men were imprisoned in 1999, the rate had fallen to 2,881 per 100,000 by 2019 — a 44 percent decrease. In that period, almost every state saw a decline in its incarceration rate for Black men....

The news gets better.  Partly as a result of these positive trends, Black men are now more likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 25 than to have been in prison: The respective population shares, as of 2019, are 17.7 percent and 12 percent.  As recently as 2009, the opposite was the case, with 17.4 percent of 25-year-old Black men having gone to prison but only 12.8 percent having finished college. ...

Optimistically, but plausibly, the study argues that the generation of Black men — and, indeed, of all U.S. residents — born after 2001 “is facing a distinctly reduced risk of imprisonment.”  This is because rates of criminal behavior and arrest fell over the past two decades, relative to the 1980s and 1990s; the effects of this trend “will likely compound into even lower rates of incarceration as they age.”

The study acknowledges that U.S. crime and incarceration rates are still well above those of peer nations.  Although the Black-White ratio in male incarceration rates fell from 9.3 to 1 in 1999 to 6.1 to 1 in 2019, that unacceptable disparity “remains quite large,” the study notes.  “There is plenty more progress to be made,” the study’s lead author, sociologist Jason P. Robey of the University at Albany’s School of Criminal Justice, told me.

It might help to achieve that progress if the new Demography study, co-authored by sociologists Michael Massoglia and Michael T. Light, both of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, had provided an account of exactly why incarceration generally, and Black male incarceration in particular, has declined, but such explanations lie beyond the scope of their research.  Less punitive enforcement policies on nonviolent drug offenses, as well as other recent reforms intended to limit racially disparate incarceration, are undoubtedly part of the story.  And of course continued downward trends in imprisonment depend on preventing crime itself from spiraling upward.  The Demography study warns, appropriately, that positive trends are “reversible.”...

Alarming data on what the study labels the “incarceration boom” supplied one necessary ingredient to the criminal justice reform movement: urgency.  Statistical evidence of progress can provide another: hope.

The research article referenced in this opinion piece is authored by Jason P. Robey, Michael Massoglia & Michael T. Light and is titled "A Generational Shift: Race and the Declining Lifetime Risk of Imprisonment."

July 12, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Notable data on Washington state trends impacted by the pandemic and a felony drug possession law declared unconstitutional

Given robust debates over the impacts of the "war on drugs" on incarceration rates and other aspects of criminal justice systems, I found fascinating this recent press piece titled "WA felony prison and jail sentences fell by 47% in 5 years. Here’s why."  I encourage folks to check out the full article which includes and array of graphics that report on an array of data developments in The Evergreen State.  Here are some excerpts:

With the number of Washington residents headed to jail or prison at a modern low, one might expect Christie Hedman to be declaring victory.  As executive director of the Washington Defender Association, Hedman’s organization has been at the forefront of a justice reform effort keenly interested in slashing incarceration rates in the state.  Instead of celebrating the drop as a sign that reform is succeeding, though, Hedman sees it as more evidence that the system remains highly dysfunctional....

By the time the pandemic began, efforts were well underway to move Washington away from incarceration as the primary response to crime.  The calls for changes following George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer and a 2021 state Supreme Court decision invalidating laws against drug possession fueled that shift....

The number of adults Washington courts sentenced to prison and jail on felony charges has nearly halved in the past five years.  State Caseload Forecast Council records on felony sentences provide insight into how that reduction has played out.

The drop in sentences involving incarceration stems directly from a state Supreme Court ruling that Washington’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional.  Legislation passed earlier this year recriminalized drug possession as misdemeanor rather than a felony, but it’s unclear whether local governments, including Seattle’s, will enforce the new law.  In 2022, about 800 people were sentenced for felony drug crimes — a 66% drop compared with the previous year, and an 86% drop compared with 2020....

Nearly 95% of these sentences were for dealing, compared with 2018, before the Supreme Court decision, when 84% were for non-dealing offenses.  Last year also saw a drop in jail and prison sentences for felony property, assault and sex crimes.  Experts attribute the overall decline in incarceration to the strains on the system since the pandemic.

During the pandemic, local jails and Department of Corrections-run prisons limited their populations by restricting who was taken into custody, said Russell Brown, executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys....

The average daily population of incarcerated people in Washington prisons was down 30% in 2022 compared with 2018, according to Department of Corrections data.  “So much of what you’ve seen has been a response to the system itself constricting and shutting down during this period of time,” said Hedman of the Washington Defender Association. “There are huge shortages of people wanting to be police officers, correctional officers, lawyers, whether it’s prosecutors or defense attorneys.”

The lingering effects of the pandemic will be evident across all criminal justice data for the next few years, said Lauren Peterson-Knoth, a senior researcher at the Washington Institute for Public Policy.  These constraints led prosecutors and courts to prioritize certain cases.  “The types of cases that were most likely to be processed were the crimes that were serious enough or repetitive enough that they finally had to put someone in custody,” said Brown of the prosecutor’s association.

In 2022, sentences for crimes that involved a deadly weapon, specifically firearms, increased the most in five years. This tracks with the reported increase in crimes involving firearms, said Brown, citing a King County report for 2022 showing reported shootings more than doubled compared with 2018.

July 5, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

New report from Human Rights Watch highlights people released from LWOP sentences in California

This press release from Human Rights Watch notes a new report that focuses on individuals who have been released from prison in California after having once been given a life without parole sentence. The press release starts this way:

People formerly sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) in the state of California have flourished since they have had an opportunity to return home, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. As changes in legislation and executive power have allowed new pathways for release, the vast majority of people who have been released after serving these sentences are volunteering in their communities, caring for family members, and mentoring youth.

The 53-page report, “‘I Just Want to Give Back’: The Reintegration of People Sentenced to Life Without Parole,” details what people who were once sentenced to die in California prisons have done with their second chances.  Human Rights Watch surveyed more than three-quarters of those released since 2013 and found that 94 percent reported volunteering regularly, 84 percent said they financially assisted others, and 90 percent worked full or part-time, with 43 percent working in the nonprofit sector.  Based on these findings, the report recommends that California government officials take steps toward eliminating the use of LWOP sentences.

Here is a snippet from the report's summary:

In recent years, less than 4 percent of people sentenced to life without parole in California have been released due to changes in state law and executive power.  At the time research began, there were only 143 people who fit this description.  This report focuses on the historic release of these individuals and examines the positive contributions they have made with their second chances.

Using statistical data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and qualitative data from a series of interviews conducted with individuals formerly sentenced to LWOP in the state of California, this report sheds light on the positive impact these people can have on society.  Notably, the interviews were conducted with 110 out of the 143 individuals who had been released, representing approximately 77 percent of the total population.  This comprehensive sample reinforces empirical research suggesting that LWOP sentences are unnecessary when it comes to promoting public safety.  Moreover, it contends that LWOP sentences are counterproductive to public safety because they deprive communities of the unique and valuable contributions individuals with the sentence can make.

June 28, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

"For Health Equity, We Must End Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this recent "Viewpoint" piece published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and authored by Emily A. Wang and Shira Shavit. Here is an excerpt:

As primary care physicians, we have seen the harms of mass incarceration extend across 3 generations of a family (grandparents, parents, and children) and how the harms may be transmitted biologically.  There is increasing evidence that psychosocial stress from the conditions of confinement; the challenges obtaining housing, food, and employment for individuals with criminal records; and the increased caregiving duties, costs of visitation, and stigma for family members are drivers of worse health outcomes.  Individuals with histories of incarceration and their family members have altered physiological stress responses, including increased levels of C-reactive protein, cortisol, and epigenetic age acceleration that are associated with developing and accelerating chronic health conditions, even after adjusting for neighborhood environment.8 Mass incarceration is now encoded into the DNA of the US.  And yet, when health policy analysts decry structural racism, mass incarceration is rarely if ever mentioned.

Undoing the health harms of mass incarceration should not only be the concern of frontline clinicians, but that of the whole medical community (including health systems and payers).  Recognizing this in 2006, we created the Transitions Clinic Network model that transforms primary care systems to better care for patients who have been incarcerated and for their families by employing community health workers with the lived experience of incarceration.  Today, the Transitions Clinic Network is the largest example of the medical community’s capacity to address mass incarceration, with a consortium of 44 primary care programs in 14 states and Puerto Rico that provide health and social service support for individuals returning from incarceration.

June 20, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7)

Vera Institute of Justice reports on "People in Jail and Prison in 2022"

The Vera Institute of Justice is continuing to do terrific work on the challenging task of collecting (near-real-time) data on the number of people in state and federal jails and prisons. Vera's latest effort is this 30-page report titled simply "People in Jail and Prison in 2022," and here is some of text from the document's summary:

In the first years of the coronavirus pandemic, federal, state, and local governments reduced the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and local jails from 2.1 million in 2019 to 1.8 million at midyear 2020.  By 2021, however, this decarceration trend appeared to have stalled, as further drops in prison populations were countered by large increases in jail numbers.  From mid-2021 to fall 2022, incarceration rose slightly, up by 4 percent.  Nonetheless, the number of people incarcerated is still near its 2020 level of 1.8 million.

The national increase seen during 2022 is the result of a patchwork of different state and local trends.  Between mid-2021 and fall 2022, a total of 34 states increased the number of people in prison, and some saw substantial growth: Mississippi and Montana both increased the number of people incarcerated in their prisons by about 9 percent. Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, and North Dakota saw prison population increases of 8 percent.

Nationally, jail populations have not fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and are still down 8.3 percent from 2019. (This is not universal: in 2022, Texas jail populations surpassed their 2019 level by more than 6 percent.)

Still, jail populations in many regions increased during the past year. Between mid-2021 and fall 2022, the fastest growth in jail populations was in the suburban counties of large metropolitan areas, followed by small and midsize metro counties.  Rural counties — which for some time have jailed people at rates double those of urban areas — had already come close to refilling their jails by mid-2021.

By fall 2022, jail incarceration rates in rural counties were 343 people per 100,000 working-age residents, compared to 159 per 100,000 in urban counties.  This growth brought rural jail incarceration rates to just 5 percent below mid-2019 levels in fall 2022, while urban counties’ jail incarceration rates were down 12 percent.

June 20, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2023

New Sentencing Project fact sheet with latest data on "Private Prisons in the United States"

The Sentencing project analyzes the latest data from Bureau of Justice Statistics on private prisons in this new fact sheet.  The full report should be reviewed for all the data, but here are snippets:

Twenty-seven states and the federal government incarcerated 96,370 people in private prisons in 2021, representing 8% of the total state and federal prison population.

Private for-profit prisons incarcerated 96,370 American residents in 2021, representing 8% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 10%....

States show significant variation in the use of private prisons. At one end of the spectrum, Montana incarcerates almost half of its prison population in privately run facilities, but in another 23 states, private prisons are not used at all. A total of 27 states and the federal government use private corporations like GEO Group, Core Civic, LaSalle Corrections, and Management and Training Corporation to run some of their corrections facilities.

Montana is not alone in its heavy reliance on private prisons. Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee rely considerably on private prisons for housing imprisoned people. In these states, between 21% and 45% of the prison population resides in a for-profit prison...

The proportion of imprisoned people in private facilities compared to public facilities has not changed considerably in the past 20 years. In 2000, 8% of the imprisoned population was also in private facilities; but fluctuations in the total number of people imprisoned over 20 years translated to a 10% rise in the number of people in private prisons. Since 2012, however, the population in private prisons has decreased significantly.

June 15, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

"Plea Bargaining Abolitionism: A History"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece authored by William Ortman now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

How does a tragedy on the scale of mass incarceration happen?  Scholarship has focused on the carceral appetite of politicians, criminal justice practitioners, and the public. R ightly so, but mass incarceration took more.  On paper, American law has a built-in check on carceral appetites: a labor-intensive system of criminal adjudication via trials. Yet as mass incarceration wreaked havoc in the 1980s and beyond, that system barely registered.  It had been supplanted, over the previous century, by a form of adjudication far better suited to punitive fervor.  Plea bargaining enabled mass incarceration.  If only Americans had been warned about plea bargaining before it was too late, maybe the catastrophe could have been avoided.

Except that they — we — were warned.  In the 1970s, an unlikely assortment of academics, prosecutors, judges, and even a Nixon-administration crime commission sought to rally the country to abolish plea bargaining.  While they did not speak in unison, they were united by a conviction that the system of plea bargaining that had matured in mid-century American courts was fundamentally unjust.

Plea bargaining abolitionists in the 1970s tried to tell us that something basic had gone wrong with the criminal process.  Perhaps predictably, the broader legal profession didn’t heed the warning.  When prosecutors and judges attempted to formally ban plea bargaining — as they did in Alaska, El Paso, and elsewhere — other prosecutors and judges, joined by defense lawyers, found ways to circumvent them.  And when scholars and politicians decried the injustice of plea bargaining, they were told to be more realistic.

June 7, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth reporting that "1,000 individuals who were sentenced to life in prison as children are now free"

I received an email this morning from The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) reporting in this way on what seems like a notable resentencing milestone:

As of June 6, 2023, we’ve reached an incredible milestone: 1,000 individuals who were sentenced to life in prison as children are now FREE! Since 2009, we have been fighting alongside family members, formerly incarcerated individuals, survivors of violence, lawyers, legislators, and advocates to reach this landmark. Today, we celebrate alongside each of you and affirm once again that “No Child Is Born Bad.”

The CFSY website also provides these notable particulars on the freed group:

What do you know about these 1000 individuals who were told as children they would die in prison serving life without parole and are now free? Their recidivism rates are exceedingly low, while the time they served is exceedingly high....

RECIDIVISM RATES OF FORMER JUVENILE LIFERS ARE EXTREMELY LOW: BETWEEN 0 AND 2%.  A study in Louisiana found the recidivism rate of those who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole to be 0% while a study in Pennsylvania found it to be 1.14%. the national recidivism rate is reported to be between 40% and 68%.

THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF YEARS THESE 1000 FORMER JUVENILE LIFERS SERVED IS EXTREMELY HIGH: 30 YEARS. The median time served for homicide in the U.S. is 17 years according to statistics from the federal bureau of justice – up from less than six years before the year 2000.

THE AVERAGE AGE UPON RELEASE: 47 YEARS OLD.  While teenagers are more prone to break the law, most who commit serious crimes mature out of a tendency to break laws around 25 years old, according to criminologists, biological brain researchers, and decades of experience.

AMERICANS OVERWHELMINGLY BELIEVE THESE 1000 HAVE A CAPACITY FOR POSITIVE CHANGE: 70%. Over two-thirds of Americans agree that children who receive lengthy sentences should have their sentences reviewed by a judge or parole board after no more than 15 years, with the opportunity for release. This majority holds across race, age, gender, political affiliation, and education.

THE LONGEST SERVING AND OLDEST TO BE FREED: JOE LIGON. Locked up at age 15, Joe Ligon became the nation’s longest-serving juvenile ‘lifer.’ at 83, he became the oldest to be freed.

June 6, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (16)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

"Calculating Torture: Analysis of Federal, State, and Local Data Showing More Than 122,000 People in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons and Jails"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the group Solitary Watch.  Here is the report's introduction (with cites removed):

Solitary confinement is a torturous and deadly practice.  Prisons, jails, and detention centers inflict solitary confinement disproportionately on Black people, Latino/a/x people, Native people, and other people of color.  Decades of research have attested to the lived experience of people who have been incarcerated and their loved ones, corroborating that solitary causes devastating harm to physical, mental, and behavioral health and is counterproductive to any goals of safety.  Any length of time in solitary confinement — days, or even hours at a time —can have severe consequences.

While there has been a growing recognition of the need to end solitary confinement, and some groundbreaking policy changes have shown movement in that direction, the use of solitary confinement in prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States remains common and widespread.

This report provides the first ever comprehensive accounting of the total use of solitary confinement in both prisons and jails across the United States.  Analysis of data recently released by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and by two state prison systems that did not report to BJS, as well as data from a survey of local jails conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, reveals that state and federal prisons and local and federal jails in the U.S. have reported on a given day locking a combined total of more than 122,000 people in solitary confinement for 22 or more hours.

These newly available numbers come closer than have any previously published figures in accounting for the number of people in solitary confinement. Yet they still undoubtedly undercount the number of individuals who experience solitary and the number impacted by it.

To begin with, the numbers are self-reported by correctional systems.  Further, they cover only solitary confinement that involves being locked in a cell 22 or more hours a day.  They do not include various informal or transient forms of solitary confinement such as group lockdowns or quarantines, nor do they include so-called alternatives that amount to solitary by another name.

In addition, the figures represent a snapshot of the number of people in solitary confinement at a given moment in time, while many times that number are locked in solitary during the course of a year.

Moreover, the numbers include only people in prisons and jails. Immigration detention facilities lock people in solitary confinement nearly 9,000 times a year, and children and other young people in youth facilities continue to be subjected to solitary. 

Even given all these excluded factors, the numbers far exceed those of other recent counts, which, in the absence of more comprehensive figures, have been widely quoted by media outlets and even scholars and advocates. 

Solitary Watch has been investigating and documenting the widespread use of solitary confinement for more than a dozen years to increase awareness of and accountability for this humanitarian crisis.  The Unlock the Box Campaign and activists across the country have been urging policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels to build on recent efforts to end or limit the use of solitary and to take much more substantial action to significantly reduce or eliminate its use.  Together, we believe that accurate information — including the most comprehensive possible count of the numbers of people in solitary confinement — is critical to creating change.

May 23, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, May 22, 2023

"Risk Averse and Disinclined: What COVID Prison Releases Demonstrate About the Availability of the United States to Reduce Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report authored by Julia Laskorunsky, Kelly Lyn Mitchell and Sandy Felkey Mullins released today by the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. Here is the Executive Summary from the 70+ page report:

This report examines the challenges and opportunities that states faced in deciding whether to release people from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It focuses on the legal mechanisms available to jurisdictions and the factors that influenced whether they were willing or able to use those mechanisms to release people from prison.

Our goal is to illuminate whether back-end release mechanisms can be used to reduce prison populations that have been bloated by the policies of the mass-incarceration era or whether relief from mass incarceration must take some other form.

The report presents case studies of six states — Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Washington — to gain a more in-depth view of how events unfolded during the pandemic.  Overall, our study found that the number of individuals released early from prisons during the pandemic was limited due to a variety of factors, including politics, risk-averse decision-making, shifting external pressures, the limited scope of compassionate and medical release statutes and the use of discretion to deny release.  In addition, few changes to policy or practice that occurred during the pandemic had a lasting impact on back-end release practices.

We conclude that the back-end release mechanisms offer only a modest opportunity to reduce mass incarceration, and the current system is unlikely to make a substantial difference in addressing mass incarceration due primarily to risk aversion.  Instead, state-level carceral policies that focus on diffusing responsibility for back-end release and that reduce incarceration in the first place have the greatest chance of achieving long-term reductions in prison populations.

May 22, 2023 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Minnesota through new legislation becomes 28th state to prohibit juve LWOP

Via email from The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, I learned this afternoon that "Minnesota has officially become the 28th state to ban juvenile life without parole as an omnibus public safety bill (SF 2909) was signed by Minnesota Governor Walz after passing through the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives." This Equal Justice Initiative piece provides some details and context:

Minnesota lawmakers this week abolished life imprisonment without parole for children. The reform is part of a public safety bill designed to transform the state’s approach to children accused of criminal offenses.

The bill not only retroactively eliminates juvenile life-without-parole sentences but also provides that children sentenced in adult court will be eligible for supervised release after at least 15 years in prison.

A newly created Supervised Release Board will be required to consider an expert assessment of the individual’s cognitive, emotional, and social maturity as well as relevant science on children’s neurological development.

Approximately 40 people will be eligible for review, University of Minnesota law professor Perry Moriearty told the Star Tribune.

The new law also creates a statewide Office of Restorative Practices to promote alternative, community-based approaches to hold children accountable, respond to victims’ needs, and address the issues underlying children’s behavior.

State grants will be provided to counties to develop local restorative justice initiatives, such as victim-offender dialogues and family group conferences, with input from parents, youths, school administrators, county prosecutors, and local law enforcement.

LawProf Mark Osler has this Twitter thread about the public safety bill that was just signed into law in Minnesota, and it highlights some other interesting sentencing features (among many others):

The bill restructures clemency. Among other features, the Pardon Board (the Gov, AG & Chief Justice) can grant clemency by a 2-1 vote with the gov in the majority. Previously, it required a unanimous vote. It also establishes a clemency commission to evaluate cases....

Adds members to the board of public defense and to the sentencing commission (including a formerly incarcerated member)....

Creates an avenue for prosecutor-initiated re-sentencing.

Caps probation at 5 years, and makes that cap retroactive for those already sentenced....

Establishes good-time credits for those in prison who pursue programming and education (up to 17% of a sentence can be earned), on top of the 1/3 of sentences that already are presumptively on supervised release.

May 19, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Sentencing Project releases new report covering “Youth Justice By The Numbers”

The Sentencing Project released today this notable new report titled, “Youth Justice By The Numbers.”  The very first page of this nine-page report spotlights that from "2000 (the peak year) and 2020, the number of youth held in juvenile justice facilities on a typical day fell from 108,800 to 25,000, a 77% decline." Here is how the start of this report contextualizes this finding and others presented in this report:

Youth arrests and incarceration increased in the closing decades of the 20th century but have fallen sharply since that time. Public opinion often lags behind these realities, wrongly assuming both that crime is perpetually increasing and that youth offending is routinely violent.  In fact, youth offending is predominantly low-level, and the 21st century has seen significant declines in youth arrests and incarceration.  Between 2000 and 2020, the number of youth held in juvenile justice facilities fell from 109,000 to 25,000 — a 77% decline.

As The Sentencing Project marks 50 years since the era of mass incarceration began, states working to end this overly punitive era can learn important lessons from both the rise and then the sustained fall in youth arrests and placements.

May 16, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative details "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state"

Prison Policy Initiative has produced this intricate new report detailing how many folks are under correctional control in every state and throughout the entire US.  The report is titled "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state," and here is how it gets started:

The U.S. has a staggering 1.9 million people behind bars, but even this number doesn’t capture the true reach of the criminal legal system.  It’s more accurate to look at the 5.5 million people under all of the nation’s mass punishment systems, which include not only incarceration but also probation and parole.

Altogether, an estimated 3.7 million adults are under community supervision (sometimes called community corrections) — nearly twice the number of people who are incarcerated in jails and prisons combined.  The vast majority of people under supervision are on probation (2.9 million people), and over 800,000 people are on parole.  Yet despite the massive number of people under supervision, parole and probation do not receive nearly as much attention as incarceration.  Policymakers and the public must understand how deeply linked these systems are to mass incarceration to ensure that these “alternatives” to incarceration aren’t simply expanding it.

We’ve designed this report specifically to allow state policymakers and residents to assess the scale and scope of their entire correctional systems.  Our findings raise the question of whether community supervision systems are working as intended or whether they simply funnel people into prisons and jails — or are even replicating prison conditions in the community.  The report encourages policymakers and advocates to consider how many people under correctional control don’t need to be locked up or monitored at all, and whether high-need individuals are receiving necessary services or only sanctions.

In this update to our 2018 report, we compile data for all 50 states and D.C. on federal and state prisons, local jails, jails in Indian Country, probation, and parole.  We also include data on punishment systems that are adjacent to the criminal legal system: youth confinement and involuntary commitment.  Because these systems often mirror and even work in tandem with the criminal legal system, we include them in this broader view of mass punishment. We make the data accessible in one nationwide chart, 100+ state-specific pie charts and a data appendix, and discuss how the scale and harms of these systems can be minimized.

May 10, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (18)

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

New Human Rights for Kids report documents those imprisoned for crimes committed as children

The group Human Rights for Kids has released this big new report titled "Crimes Against Humanity: The Mass Incarceration of Children in the US." Here is part of the report's executive summary:

The extensive negative impact on children from our practice of transferring them into the adult criminal justice system and treating them as if they were adults has been well-documented by state and federal government agencies, researchers, advocates and the press. What has not been documented to date, is the extent of the impact of these policies. This report provides the first ever snapshot and national estimate of the number of people in our prisons who have been there since they were children.

We gathered data from 45 states on every individual currently incarcerated who was under the age of 18 at the time of their offense. Our findings revealed that U.S. prisons are filled with at least 32,359 individuals whose crimes were committed as children....

Beginning in the summer of 2021, we requested data from departments of corrections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on individuals who are currently incarcerated in adult prisons who committed their offense when they were under the age of 18. We received data from 45 states. Our analysis surfaced trends and findings across sentence length, decade of incarceration, gender, race and ethnicity. In addition to aggregating the data, we also conducted a comparative analysis to highlight which state practices constituted the worst human rights violations across categories.

We are currently incarcerating approximately 32,359 individuals in ourprisons for crimes they committed as children.  Some were so young they were still subject to truancy laws, and an astonishing number weren’t even teenagers.  They comprise a full 3.1% of the United States’ overall state prison population –- the equivalent of an entire prison full of children in every state in the country.  Notably, this is close to the total number of children in youth prisons of 36,469.  We incarcerate more children as adults in our prison system than the total combined prison populations of Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Scotland.  In fact,there are more people in our prisons for crimes they committed as children than people in prison who committed their crimes as adults in 76.68% of the countries and independent territories in the world.

May 9, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)