Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is the Bruen Second Amendment ruling really "an important step to ending mass incarceration"?

As highlighted by prior posts here and here, I am intrigued by what Supreme Court's big Bruen ruling (basics here) will mean from Second Amendment jurisprudence and a variety of gun prohibitions.  But the question in the title of this post is prompted by this  Washington Post opinion piece by Aimee Carlisle, Christopher Smith and Michael Alexander Thomas which seems to have particular grand expectations about what Bruen could bring.  Here are excerpts:

As public defenders in New York City who represent people charged with illegal gun possession — people who, according to the New York City Police Department’s own data, are almost invariably Black and Brown — we see the majority’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen as an important step to ending mass incarceration.  That’s why we joined other public defenders in filing an amicus brief in the case asking the court to abandon its ivory tower and consider the law’s impact on those people who bear the brunt of New York’s gun laws — our clients....

Because possession of an unlicensed, loaded firearm is a “violent felony” under New York law, people with no criminal record who are convicted face a mandatory minimum sentence of 3½ years in prison; the maximum is 15 years.  They can lose their jobs, their housing, their children and, if they are not citizens, their right to live in the United States. All for carrying a gun without ever threatening anyone or pulling the trigger — conduct that in many states is not a crime at all....

Now, following the landmark ruling in Bruen, New York can no longer impose hurdles that render the Second Amendment a fiction.... The solution to gun violence is not imprisoning people simply for carrying a gun — and burdening them with the lifelong consequences that follow.  The only acceptable solution must reject racist intent and impact at every stage.  We must break our addiction to mass incarceration.

The next steps are clear.  Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, prosecutors must dismiss all gun cases that punish people for engaging in constitutionally protected activity and free them from jail.  As state lawmakers weigh their legislative response to the decision, we hope they will finally safeguard New Yorkers’ right to keep and bear arms and create a system free of racism.

I always eager to see our laws move away, in any and every possible way, from unnecessary and excessive incarceration.  And I am hopeful that any and all persons now incarcerated based on criminal laws that Bruen makes constitutional will swiftly get justice pursuant to their constitutional rights.  But there is a long history of legislators, prosecutors and others often working quite hard to restrict which defendants get retroactive relief from major Supreme Court ruling and to find new ways to criminalize a broad swatch of disfavored conduct.  Though Bruen may end up having lots of echoes, I am not certainly expecting it to make a real dent in our nation's incarceration levels.  

Prior recent related posts:

June 29, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Nothing but Time: Elderly Americans Serving Life Without Parole"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Sentencing Project. Here is most of the executive summary and recommendations from the start of the report:

Prisons are a particularly hazardous place to grow old.  The carceral system is largely unprepared to handle the medical, social, physical, and mental health needs for older people in prison.  Nearly half of prisons lack an established plan for the care of the elderly incarcerated....

Warnings by corrections budget analysts of the crushing costs of incarcerating people who are older have gone almost entirely unheeded. Indeed, sociologist and legal scholar Christopher Seeds accurately described a transformation of life without parole “from a rare sanction and marginal practice of last resort into a routine punishment in the United States” over the last four decades.  And in the contemporary moment of rising concerns around crime, there are reasons to be concerned that ineffective, racially disproportionate, and costly tough-on-crime measures such as increasing sentence lengths will proliferate, leading to even higher numbers of incarcerated people who will grow old in prison.  In this, as in many other aspects of its carceral system, the United States is an outlier; in many Western democracies those in their final decades of life are viewed as a protected class from the harsh prison climate.

Older incarcerated people describe sentences of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) — with the expectation that they will die in prison — as particularly cruel, involving a devastating loss of human dignity.  Considering the consistent observation across dozens of studies that people “age out” of criminal conduct, the dedication of resources toward a group that is of extremely low risk is a foolish investment.  Yet people serving LWOP are a growing share of the overall life-sentenced population and the number of people in prison serving LWOP is at an all-time high.  While LWOP sentences have been a sentencing component of the American punishment spectrum for much of its existence, recent mandatory and preferential imposition of life sentences with no chance for parole are a more prominent feature than ever.  In 2020, The Sentencing Project produced a 50-state survey of departments of corrections that revealed that more than 55,000 Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons with no chance of parole, reflecting a 66% rise in people serving LWOP since 2003.

Because compassionate release, whether based on chronological age (geriatric parole) or diagnosis of a terminal illness (medical parole), typically excludes people serving life sentences by statute, the only option for an early release for people serving LWOP is executive clemency.  While clemency was common for older people serving life sentences sixty years ago, it was nearly terminated by the 1970s, and is still rarely used today.

This report explores the features of the LWOP population in more detail, focusing on the aging demographic in particular.  The data presented in this report reflect the patterns of 40,000 people serving LWOP sentences across 20 states.  These 20 states reflect three quarters of the LWOP population nationwide. The main findings in this report are the following:

• Almost half (47%) of the people serving LWOP are 50 years old or more and one in four is at least 60 years old.

• In ten years, even if no additional LWOP sentences were added in these states, 30,000 people currently serving LWOP will be 50 or older.

• 60% of the elderly imprisoned serving LWOP have already served at least 20 years....

• Half of aging people serving LWOP are Black and nearly 60% are people of color....

• The majority of people serving LWOP have been convicted of murder, but a growing share of the overall LWOP population has been convicted of less serious crimes, reflecting an over-expansion of LWOP.

We make a series of recommendations for reform based on the research presented in this report:

• Reinstate parole or resentencing opportunities for those currently ineligible.

• Give added weight to advanced age at review hearings. Advanced age considerations should begin at age 50 in light of the accelerating aging process that accompanies imprisonment.

• Allow immediate sentence review with presumption of release for people who are 50 and older and have served 10 years of their LWOP sentence.

• Revise medical parole release statutes to include all incarcerated people regardless of crime of conviction and age.

• Upon release, transition elderly persons, including those who have been convicted of a violent crime and those who are serving LWOP and other life sentences, to well-supported systems of community care if they are too frail to live independently.

• Require states to disclose the cost of incarcerating elderly people, including the cost of all medical care, as well as projections for future costs. Failing in such fiscal transparency keeps taxpayers in the dark about the true cost of mass incarceration.

• Expand clemency release opportunities to reflect their higher usage in earlier eras.

June 23, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

"Chronic Punishment: The unmet health needs of people in state prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by Leah Wang.  Here is how the report gets started (with some original links retained):

Over 1 million people sit in U.S. state prisons on any given day.  These individuals are overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately Black, Native, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQ, and often targeted by law enforcement from a young age, as we detailed recently in our report Beyond the Count.  And all too often, they are also suffering from physical and mental illnesses, or navigating prison life with disabilities or even pregnancy.  In this, the second installment of our analysis of a unique, large-scale survey of people in state prisons, we add to the existing research showing that state prisons fall far short of their constitutional duty to meet the essential health needs of people in their custody.  As a result, people in state prison are kept in a constant state of illness and despair.

Instead of “rehabilitating” people in prison (physically, mentally or otherwise), or at the very least, serving as a de facto health system for people failed by other parts of the U.S. social safety net, data from the most recent national  Survey of Prison Inmates show that state prisons are full of ill and neglected people.  Paired with the fact that almost all of these individuals are eventually released, bad prison policy is an issue for all of us — not just those who are behind bars.

This report covers a lot of ground, so we’ve divided it into sections that can be accessed directly here:

Physical health problems: Chronic conditions and infectious disease

Access to healthcare: People in state prison disproportionately lacked health insurance

Mental health problems: Exceptionally high rates among incarcerated people

Disabilities: Disproportionate rates of physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities

Pregnancy and reproductive health: Expectant mothers are underserved in prison

Conclusions and recommendations: How do we begin to address unmet needs in prisons?

Methodology: Details about the data and our analysis

Appendix tables: Explore the data yourself

June 22, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases another report on "Length of Incarceration and Recidivism"

A few years ago, as noted in this blog post, the US Sentencing Commission released a report titled "Length of Incarceration and Recidivism."  Today, the USSC has issued another report under the same title, and this webpage provides an overview and key findings:

Overview

This study, the seventh in the recidivism series, examines the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism. In 2020, the Commission published its initial comprehensive study on length of incarceration and recidivism.  In that study, which examined offenders released in 2005, the Commission found that federal offenders receiving sentences of more than 60 months were less likely to recidivate compared to a similar group of offenders receiving shorter sentences.  This study replicates the prior analysis, however, it examines a more current cohort of federal offenders released in 2010.  This study examines the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism, specifically exploring three potential relationships that may exist: incarceration as having a deterrent effect, a criminogenic effect, or no effect on recidivism.

This study examines 32,135 federal offenders who satisfied the following criteria:

  • United States citizens;
  • Re-entered the community during 2010 after discharging their sentence of incarceration or by commencing a term of probation;
  • Not reported dead, escaped, or detained;
  • Have valid FBI numbers which could be located in criminal history repositories (in at least one state, the District of Columbia, or federal records).

Key Findings

  • The results of this study, examining federal offenders released in 2010, are almost identical to the findings established in prior Commission research examining federal offenders released in 2005.  In both studies, the odds of recidivism were lower for federal offenders sentenced to more than 60 months incarceration compared to a matched group of offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • The odds of recidivism were approximately 29 percent lower for federal offenders sentenced to more than 120 months incarceration compared to a matched group of federal offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • The odds of recidivism were approximately 18 percent lower for offenders sentenced to more than 60 months up to 120 months incarceration compared to a matched group of federal offenders receiving shorter sentences.
  • For federal offenders sentenced to 60 months or less incarceration, the Commission did not find any statistically significant differences in recidivism.

June 21, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, June 20, 2022

Mississippi Supreme Court upholds, against Eighth Amendment challenge, mandatory LWOP habitual-offender sentence for marijuana possession

Last year in this post, I reported on a Mississippi state intermediate appeal court ruling that upheld a mandatory life without parole sentence for possession of over 30 grams of marijuana because the defendant was a violent habitual offender under Mississippi law.  Last week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi, by a 6-3 vote, affirmed this sentence in Russell v. Mississippi, No. 2019-CT-01670-SCT (Miss. June 16, 2022) (available here).  Here is the start and some concluding parts of the  majority opinion:

This certiorari case considers whether Allen Russell’s life sentence without the possibility of parole for possession of marijuana, as an habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83 (Rev. 2020), violates his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Court of Appeals stalemated five to five, resulting in an affirmance of the judgment of the trial court. Russell v. State, No. 2019-KA-01670-COA, 2021 WL 1884144, at *3 (Miss. Ct. App. May 11, 2021).  We affirm Russell’s sentence....

In the limited scenario in which the mandatory sentence facing a defendant under Section 99-19-83 is life without parole and the crime for which the defendant is being sentenced, unenhanced, is a nonviolent crime that carries a minimal-maximum sentence (i.e. less than ten years), trial judges should specifically consider “all matters relevant to” the sentence as contemplated in Presley to determine the issue of gross disproportionality and the constitutionality of the sentence as to that particular defendant. Presley, 474 So. 2d at 620....  None of this benefits Russell. We reiterate, once again, that the burden is upon the defendant to show that the sentence mandated by the legislature is unconstitutional as to that particular defendant.  Because Russell presented no evidence, the only substantive evidence before the court were the prior convictions....

The record is replete with additional evidence, as documented in the separate opinion of the chief justice.  We would refer the reader to the chief justice’s separate opinion for a thorough recounting of the details surrounding Russell’s arrest.  However, it is pertinent to note that the arrest came while law enforcement was attempting to serve another drug related warrant on Russell as well as execute a search warrant on his premises. The search warrant came about as a result of Russell’s being developed as a suspect in a murder in a hotel room where a medical document naming Russell was found....

In Russell’s case, the trial judge followed our procedure and the law, Russell presented no evidence related to the Solem factors and the trial judge sentenced Russell to the only sentence available.  Therefore, we affirm.

The lengthy separate concurring opinion is an interesting read that seeks to highlight "Solem’s weaknesses." Here is how it concludes:

Based on both this Court’s precedent and the rulings of the United States Supreme Court in Rummel, 445 U.S. 263, Harmelin, 501 U.S. 263, Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, and Ewing, 538 U.S. 11, Russell’s sentence as an habitual offender was not grossly disproportionate.  His sentence meets the prescribed statutory punishment.  There is no legal basis to vacate Russell’s sentence.  It is neither cruel nor unusual.  As Russell has failed to prove that the threshold requirement of gross disproportionality was offered and met, because his sentence fell within the statutory requirement, and because his sentence is a constitutionally permissible sentence, we should affirm Russell’s conviction and sentence.

The short dissenting opinion includes this point in making the case Solem ought to help Russell:

Recent developments in Mississippi and elsewhere concerning the treatment of marijuana possession arguably provide a material difference between Solem and Russell that favors Russell as to the objective factors.  In the past year, the state of Mississippi joined many of its sister states in adopting a medical marijuana program.  Pursuant to the bill creating the program, the difference going forward between going to jail for possessing 2.5 ounces of marijuana and owning it legally would be a prescription.  See S.B. 2095, 2022 Miss. Laws.  For better or for worse, the adoption of a medical marijuana in Mississippi is in keeping with a nationwide change on the treatment of marijuana in the law.  An April 2021 law journal article points out that thirty-six states now have medical marijuana programs, and fourteen states and the District of Columbia now allow its recreational use.  Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Cannabis Capitalism, 69 Buff. L. Rev. 215, 216-217 (2021).  Less than thirty years ago, however, all states and the federal government outlawed its distribution. Id. Whether it be wisdom or folly, the above-described move toward decriminalizing the use of marijuana considered in light of the first objective Solem factor, i.e., the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty, surely weighs in favor of Russell.  There appears to be no similar widespread movement to legalize “uttering a ‘no account’ check[.]” Solem, 463 U.S. at 281.

June 20, 2022 in Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, June 11, 2022

"The Dangerous Few: Taking Seriously Prison Abolition and Its Skeptics"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay by Thomas Ward Frampton just published in the Harvard Law Review.  Here is its abstract:

Prison abolition, in the span of just a few short years, has established a foothold in elite criminal legal discourse.  But the basic question of how abolitionists would address “the dangerous few” often receives superficial treatment; the problem constitutes a “spectral force haunting abolitionist thought . . . as soon as abolitionist discourses navigate towards the programmatic and enter the public arena.”  This Essay offers two main contributions: it (1) maps the diverse ways in which prison abolitionists most frequently respond to the challenge of “the dangerous few,” highlighting strengths and infirmities of each stance, and (2) proposes alternative, hopefully more productive, responses that interrogate and probe the implicit premises (empirical, ideological, or moral) embedded in and animating questions concerning “the dangerous few.”

June 11, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, June 09, 2022

"Incarcerated LGBTQ+ Adults and Youth"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Sentencing Project. Here is how the document starts:

This fact sheet examines the criminalization and over-incarceration of LGBTQ+ adults and youth.  The LGBTQ+ population is comprised of people with non-heterosexual identities — those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and others — and people with non-cisgender identities — those who are trans and gender non-conforming.  LGBTQ+ adults are incarcerated at three times the rate of the total adult population.  LGBTQ+ youth’s representation among the incarcerated population is double their share of the general population.

LGBTQ+ people experience high rates of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and violence — factors which drive their overrepresentation in the criminal legal system. In both adult and youth facilities, imprisoned LGBTQ+ people face physical, sexual, and verbal harassment and abuse, as well as a lack of gender-affirming housing, clothing, personal hygiene products, medical care, and mental health treatment.  To help alleviate these harms, states and the federal government should repeal laws that criminalize LGBTQ+ people, limit the use of solitary confinement, mandate access to gender-affirming health care in correctional facilities, and invest in drug and mental health treatment and reentry programs for LGBTQ+ youth and adults

June 9, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Supreme Court of Canada declares all LWOP sentences unconstitutional as "degrading in nature and thus intrinsically incompatible with human dignity"

As this press article details, "Canada’s supreme court has ruled that life sentences without the chance of parole are both “cruel” and unconstitutional, in a landmark decision that could give more than dozen mass killers who committed “inherently despicable acts” the faint hope of release in the future." Here is more from the press piece about Friday's ruling:

The court unanimously determined on Friday that sentencing killers to lengthy prison terms with little hope of freedom risked bringing the “administration of justice into disrepute”.

The closely watched case centred on the fate of Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six worshippers at a mosque in Québec City in 2017, but the court’s decision will possibly have consequences for at least 18 others who are serving multiple life sentences.

In Canada, those serving a life sentence for first-degree murder are eligible to apply for parole at 25 years. But in 2011, the Conservative government gave justices the ability to hand out consecutive sentences, rather than concurrent blocks of 25 years.

In the case of Bissonnette, the 27-year-old pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in 2018, after he entered the Islamic Cultural Centre in Québec City with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol, opening fire on worshippers. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, called the act a “terrorist attack”.

Drawing on the 2011 provision, Crown prosecutors asked a judge to impose a parole ineligibility period of 150 years, the harshest sentence ever handed down in Canada since the abolition of the death penalty. Prosecutors said Bissonnette should serve 25 consecutive years for each of the six people he murdered.

The sentencing judge instead ruled Bissonnette would have the chance of parole at 40 years. That decision was overturned in 2020 by Quebec’s court of appeal, which ruled unanimously that Bissonnette should have a chance of parole at 25 years. Bissonnette, now 32, will be eligible to apply for parole in his 50s.

The ruling of the court applies retroactively to 2011 and could affect at least 18 others whose parole eligibility exceeds 25 years, even those who have exhausted their appeals. In some cases, people have been handed a 75-year wait period before being able to apply for parole....

Acknowledging the heinous crimes of those serving multiple life sentences, Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote that the ruling “must not be seen as devaluing the life” of innocent victims. “This appeal is not about the value of each human life, but rather about the limits on the state’s power to punish offenders, which, in a society founded on the rule of law, must be exercised in a manner consistent with the Constitution.”

The full ruling in R. v. Bissonnette, 2022 SCC 23 (Canada May 27, 2022), is available here.  Here is just one of many notable passages: 

The objectives of denunciation and deterrence are not better served by the imposition of excessive sentences. Beyond a certain threshold, these objectives lose all of their functional value, especially when the sentence far exceeds human life expectancy.  The imposition of excessive sentences that fulfil no function does nothing more than bring the administration of justice into disrepute and undermine public confidence in the rationality and fairness of the criminal justice system.  A punishment that can never be carried out is contrary to the fundamental values of Canadian society.

The effects of a sentence of imprisonment for life without a realistic possibility of parole support the conclusion that it is degrading in nature and thus intrinsically incompatible with human dignity.  Offenders who have no realistic possibility of parole are deprived of any incentive to reform, and the psychological consequences flowing from this sentence are in some respects comparable to those experienced by inmates on death row, since only death will end their incarceration. For offenders who are sentenced to imprisonment for life without a realistic possibility of parole, the feeling of leading a monotonous, futile existence in isolation from their loved ones and from the outside world is very hard to tolerate, so much so that some prefer to put an end to their lives rather than die slowly and endure suffering that seems endless to them.  Furthermore, in international and comparative law, a sentence that deprives offenders of any possibility of being released is generally considered to be incompatible with human dignity.

To review, then, in Canada it is unconstitutional to impose functional life without parole sentences on even mass murderers, wheres in the United States many thousands of persons (and mostly persons of color) have been sentenced in recent decades to LWOP terms for federal drug offenses.

May 28, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 23, 2022

Notable (pandemic-impacted) justice data in "Federal Justice Statistics, 2020"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has this new publication full of notable federal statistics under the title ""Federal Justice Statistics, 2020."  Here is how the 30-page document is briefly introduced:

Federal arrests declined 42% from fiscal year (FY) 2019 to FY 2020, reaching their lowest level since FY 2001. Of the 346,681 persons under federal correctional control at fiscal year-end 2020, about 56% were in secure confinement and 44% were on community supervision. This was a decline from fiscal year-end 2010, when 401,198 persons were under federal correctional control.

This report describes cases processed by the federal criminal justice system. Data are from the Federal Justice Statistics Program, which collects, standardizes, and reports on administrative data received from six federal justice agencies: the U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and U.S. Sentencing Commission.

There is way too much data in this document to summarize, though the impact of the pandemic is clear in a lot of the 2020 data points. Here are some sentencing/prison passages of note concerning fiscal year 2020 data:

Convicted males (69%) were sentenced to prison more often than convicted females (58%). Twenty-one percent of convicted females received a probation-only sentence, compared to 6% of convicted males. Convicted black defendants (85%) were the most likely to receive a prison sentence, followed by convicted American Indian or Alaska Native (79%); white (76%); Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander (67%); and Hispanic (60%) defendants.  Among those sentenced to prison, white and black defendants were both sentenced to a median of 60 months....

In FY 2020, a total of 36,914 federally sentenced persons were admitted to federal prison. Of these, 28,747 persons entered federal prison on U.S. district court commitments.  Another 8,167 persons were returned to federal prison for violating conditions of probation, parole, or supervised release or were admitted to federal prison for any reason other than a U.S. district court commitment.  Thirty-seven percent (21,972) fewer admissions occurred in FY 2020 than in FY 2019. (See Federal Justice Statistics, 2019 (NCJ 301158, BJS, October 2021).)  In FY 2020, a total of 13,619 persons entered federal prison for a drug offense, most of whom (10,415 or 76%) had been sentenced to more than 1 year.

A total of 59,044 persons were released from federal prison in FY 2020.  Most (45,694) were being released for the first time since their U.S. district court commitment.  Ten percent (6,537) fewer releases occurred in 2020 than in 2019. (See Federal Justice Statistics, 2019 (NCJ 301158, BJS, October 2021).)  There were 22,130 fewer persons in federal prison at the end of FY 2020 (September 30, 2020) than at the start of FY 2020 (October 1, 2019), a much larger drop than in previous years due in part to the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The last time the year-end federal prison population was this low (132,291) was in 2000 (129,329).  From the start to the end of FY 2020, 8,039 fewer persons were in prison for a drug offense and 5,492 fewer were in prison for an immigration offense.

May 23, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2022

Federal prison population up a lot more than another 1,500 persons in a little more than a month

Regular readers are now used to my regular monthly posts about the federal prison population based on Bureau of Prison data.  These posts of late have regularly noted significant and steady population growth in recent months  In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1,100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March.  And this post on April 8 noted that it then took only three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners between mid March and early April. 

The federal Bureau of Prisons now has updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates" as of May 12, 2022, and these basic growth trends are continuing.  As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count was at 155,274, but now as of May 12, the total number of federal inmates is at 156,939.  So, in just the last five weeks, there has been another 1,655 more federal prisoners added to the population compared to the total in early April.  If this pace of federal prison growth continues in coming months, it is quite possible that 2022 could experience a level of federal incarceration growth we have not seen in decades. 

As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases).  Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."   To his credit, since my last posting on prison population, Prez Biden did grant 75 commutation to federal inmates (most of whom were already serving their time on home confinement).  But a one-time grant of 75 clemencies necessarily looks somewhat paltry in the face of week-over-week-over-week-over-week federal prison population growth averaging more than 300 persons.

May 13, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

New Sentencing Project fact sheet highlights rise (and recent declines) in the incarceration of women and girls

The folks at The Sentencing Project have assembled some fascinating data on the number of incarcerated women at this site and in this fact sheet. Here is part of their description of the fact sheet:

Between 1980 and 2020, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 475%, rising from a total of 26,326 in 1980 to 152,854 in 2020.  The total count in 2020 represents a 30% reduction from the prior year — a substantial but insufficient downsizing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which some states began to reverse in 2021.

Research on female incarceration is critical to understanding the full consequences of mass incarceration and to unraveling the policies and practices that lead to their criminalization. The number of incarcerated women was nearly five times higher in 2020 than in 1980.

Incarcerated Women and Girls examines female incarceration trends and finds areas of both concern and hope.  While the imprisonment rate for African American women was nearly twice that of white women in 2020, this disparity represents a sharp decline from 2000 when Black women were six times as likely to be imprisoned.  Since then Black women’s imprisonment rate has decreased by 68% while white women’s rate has increased by 12%.

Similar to adults, girls of color are more likely to be incarcerated than white girls.  Tribal girls are more than four times as likely, and African American girls are more than three times as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

All the data in the fact sheet are fascinating, and these particular data points really caught my attention:

May 12, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, May 07, 2022

"Prisons and jails will separate millions of mothers from their children in 2022"

The title of this post is the title of this briefing by Prison Policy Initiative authored by Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram and published in time for Mother's Day.  Here is how it gets started:

This Mother’s Day — as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put people behind bars at risk — nearly 150,000 incarcerated mothers will spend the day apart from their children.  Over half (58%) of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails, including many who are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail.

Most of these women are incarcerated for drug and property offenses, often stemming from poverty and/or substance use disorders.  Most are also the primary caretakers of their children, meaning that punishing them with incarceration tears their children away from a vital source of support.  And these numbers don’t cover the many women preparing to become mothers while locked up this year: An estimated 58,000 people every year are pregnant when they enter local jails or prisons.

150,000 mothers separated from their children this Mother’s Day is atrocious in and of itself — but that’s just one day.  How many people in the U.S. have experienced separation from their mothers due to incarceration over the years?  Unfortunately, these specific data are not collected, but we calculated some rough estimates based on other research to attempt to answer this question:

  • Roughly 570,000 women living in the U.S. had ever been separated from their minor children by a period of imprisonment as of 2010.
  • An estimated 1.3 million people living in the U.S. had been separated from their mothers before their 18th birthdays due to their mothers’ imprisonment, also as of 2010.

May 7, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Notable CCJ new task force examining long prison terms

I was pleased to see this announcement of the Council of Criminal Justice's new Task Force on Long Sentences. The membership roster is very impressive, and here is how the task force is described on the CCJ site:

The Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Long Sentences is examining how long prison terms affect public safety, crime victims and survivors, incarcerated individuals and their families, communities, and correctional staff and developing recommendations that will strengthen public safety and advance justice.

Guided by research and data, and informed by the experiences of victims and survivors of violent crimes and those who have been incarcerated, the Task Force is assessing the drivers of growth in the number of people sentenced to 10 years or more and the impact of such sentences on racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the prison system.  It also is considering ways to improve the post-release success of people serving long prison terms, most of whom return to the community.

The Task Force is co-chaired by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who was also U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and Trey Gowdy, a long-time federal and state prosecutor who served four terms in the House of Representatives.  Joining them are 14 other members representing a broad range of experience and perspectives, including crime victims and survivors, formerly incarcerated people, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

Launched in spring 2022, the Task Force on Long Sentences follows CCJ’s Violent Crime Working Group, which released a series of bulletins on strategies to address community violence and in January produced a roadmap of 10 essential actions that policymakers can take to reduce violence now. 

May 4, 2022 in Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

"Why Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee should veto mass-incarceration crime bill"

The title of this post is the headline of this commentary authored by David Louis Raybin. I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Crime rates do not drive a state’s prison population — policy choices do.

Every year the General Assembly passes a few bills which lengthen sentences for a few crimes.  This year the flood gates opened.  Two dozen offenses have been amended to require service of 85% or even 100% of the total time before release. There are no “behavior” credits which reduce these sentences further. Some offenses now prohibit parole.

Our current sentencing scheme includes lengthy sentences that can be a mix of prison and supervised parole release on a case-by-case basis.  For example, a first offender might get a sentence of six years, but he or she would be eligible for parole supervision after service of about 30% of that time.  Now, he or she will serve the full 6 years.

There are better ways to accomplish certainly in sentencing such as by having mandatory minimums of real time behind bars but coupled with rehabilitative programs.  The sentence lengths under current law were never designed for 100% or even 85% sentences.  But now the real time in prison is doubled or even tripled with no hope and release perhaps decades later with little or no supervision.

In 1979, crime was getting out of hand. Gov. Lamar Alexander’s legal counsel and I were asked to draft a crime bill....  We came up with what was known as the Class X Felony Law of 1979.  Much like the current legislation, this law eliminated early parole and sentencing credits.

While it seemed like a good idea at the time, in a few years the prisons were filled and eventually overflowing.  There were riots in four prisons.  Correctional officers and nurses were held hostage.  A fire started at one prison caused millions in damage.  A federal court took over our prisons.  The General Assembly was called into an emergency special session.  As a result, parole and credits were restored as a reward for good behavior and to allow for supervised release of compliant inmates. We should learn the lessons of the not-too-distant past and not repeat the same mistakes.

The cost to taxpayers of this current legislation is astronomical: $95 million.  Thousands of people are convicted each year of the offenses that will now require substantially increased prison sentences.  Our prisons are already bursting at the seams with inmates backing up in the jails.  We would need to build new prisons each year to house the increase in inmates....  As part of the budget the legislature also approved funding for a covered football stadium.  We may need it to house all the extra prisoners this crime bill will generate.

With his veto pen, Governor Lee has an opportunity to give the General Assembly a chance to reconsider ill-advised, mass incarceration legislation.  This is not the kind of “criminal justice reform” the governor campaigned for and that voters resoundingly elected him to implement.

As someone who has helped draft numerous sentencing laws over the years, including a similar bill that had disastrous effects, I request Governor Lee to use his constitutional powers to let us catch our breath and work together for a long-term solution which will make us all safer.

May 3, 2022 in Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, April 25, 2022

"Did Mass Incarceration Leave Americans Feeling Less Afraid? A Multilevel Analysis of Cumulative Imprisonment and Individual Perceptions of Fear"

The title of this post is the title of this new research article now available online which is to be published in the journal Justice Quarterly and is authored by Andrea Corradi and Eric Baumer.  Here is its abstract:

Much of the political rhetoric that facilitated mass incarceration was predicated on the promise of reducing fear among the public.  Yet, it remains unclear whether the large increases in imprisonment experienced in many areas made residents feel less afraid.  We examine this issue by integrating geographic data on imprisonment with individual-level data on fear from the General Social Survey (GSS).  We find that people from states and counties with greater “cumulative imprisonment” rates were no less afraid than their counterparts from areas that imprisoned many fewer people.  These findings hold for the public overall and for non-Latino whites and members of the working and middle classes, who frequently were target audiences for political rhetoric linking mass incarceration era policies to fear reduction.  Our study supports growing calls to decouple crime and criminal justice policy from politics and electoral cycles, and to develop evidence-based punishment approaches organized around transparent normative principles.

April 25, 2022 in Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Great panel series to explore "The Role of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in Decarceration: First Step Act and Beyond"

CJHDI keep hoping and hoping that we will be getting nominations from Prez Biden to the US Sentencing Commission just about any day now. Excitingly, even while being kept waiting for long-overdue USSC nominations, I can now look forward to a weekly panel series dedicated to examining thoroughly and thoughtfully what new nominees should be doing.  Specifically, the Center for Justice and Human Dignity (CJHD) is presenting a series of panels on the "Role of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in Decarceration: First Step Act and Beyond," which will run Tuesdays at 12noon ET from May 3 through May 24.

CJHD is a nonprofit organization whose mission is explained here in terms of seeking "to reduce prison incarceration in the United States while improving conditions for those imprisoned and working inside.  We promote values of human dignity and shared safety while keeping in mind the needs of survivors, directly impacted people, and society at large. Alongside diverse partners, we collaborate with judges on alternative sentencing, correctional leaders on the conditions of confinement, and policymakers on early release strategies."

This events page provides this account of this panel series:

While the President considers the U.S. Sentencing Commission appointments, judges and judicial-focused organizations are examining how the agency might better address the myriad ways its guidelines impact mass incarceration.  The nation has an opportunity to reimagine how the Commission might use its authority to further decarceration efforts and address other system disparities through its guidelines and policy statements.

During this symposium, judges, scholars and practitioners will share their thoughts on these topics and reflect on how legislation like the First Step Act has expanded the use of compassionate release and other opportunities for decarceration.

Over the course of four weeks in May, this virtual symposium will offer weekly panels addressing how the U.S. Sentencing Commission can be supportive of federal alternative to incarceration programming, sentencing review mechanisms, promising practices from state sentencing commissions, and changes to the guidelines practitioners and other leaders in the field are interested in seeing once commissioners are appointed.

The Role of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in Decarceration: First Step Act and Beyond. A weekly panel discussion, Tuesdays at 12pm ET, May 3-24, 2022 Click here to register online

I had the pleasure of helping just a bit in planning some of the topics for these panels, as well as the great honor of moderating one part of this important discussion. The speakers involved are really great, and I am looking forward to the whole series (and I sure hope we finally have some Commissions nominees from Prez Biden before the series concludes).

April 20, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases new report providing a "deep dive into state prison populations"

As detailed in this press release, today the "the Prison Policy Initiative published Beyond the Count, a report that examines the most recent and comprehensive demographic data about people in state prisons and provides a groundbreaking view of the lives of incarcerated people before they were locked up."  Here is more about the report from the press release:

The report analyzes data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ “Survey of Prison Inmates,” collected in 2016 and released in late 2020.  The data show what many in the criminal justice reform movement already know: that the U.S. criminal justice system today locks up the least powerful people in society.  Key takeaways include:

  • Many, if not most, people in prison grew up struggling financially. 42% of survey respondents said their family received public assistance before they were 18. Respondents also reported uncommonly high levels of homelessness, foster care, and living in public housing before the age of 18.

  • Most individuals in state prisons report that their first arrest happened when they were children. 38 percent of the people BJS surveyed reported a first arrest before age 16, and 68% reported a first arrest before age 19. The average survey respondent had been arrested over 9 times in their life.

  • The typical person in state prison is 39 years old and has a 10th grade education, a fact that is most likely linked to youth confinement, which disrupts a young person’s life and schooling.

  • Half (49%) of people in state prisons meet the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD), and 65% were using an illicit substance in the immediate lead-up to their incarceration, suggesting that many people who are not locked up for drug offenses are still victims of our country’s choice to criminalize substance use rather than treat it as a health issue.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s report includes more than 20 detailed data tables that allow readers to better understand the people who are in state prisons and the challenges they have faced in their lives.  Beyond the Count also includes a section diving into the data on the race, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation of people in state prisons, explaining that a disproportionate number of incarcerated people are racial minorities, very young or very old, or LGBTQ.  Many of the key demographic findings in Beyond the Count (such as incarcerated people’s age at first arrest) are also broken down by race or gender.  While the data in this report is about people in state prisons, it does not allow statistics to be broken out for individual states.

April 13, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Reviewing the application of Miller and juvenile LWOP in the federal system

This AP story, headlined "Juvenile lifer seeks reprieve amid broader push for leniency," focuses on one high-profile juvenile lifer case while also discussing some of the other realities of juve LWOP in the federal system since the Supreme Court's major Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller v. Alabama a decade ago.  Here are some excerpts from a lengthy piece worth reading in full:

Shortly after Riley Briones Jr. arrived in federal prison, he cut his long, braided hair in a symbolic death of his old self. As a leader of a violent gang and just shy of 18, Briones drove the getaway car in a robbery turned deadly on the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community outside Phoenix in 1994. He was convicted of murder and given a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

In prison, he has been baptized a Christian, ministers to other inmates who call him Brother Briones, got his GED and has a spotless disciplinary record, his attorneys say in their latest bid to get the now 45-year-old’s sentence cut short. “He’s clearly on the side of the line where he should be walking free,” said his attorney, Easha Anand.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for that possibility with a 2012 ruling that said only the rare, irredeemable juvenile offender should serve life in prison. Over the past decade, most of the 39 defendants in federal cases who received that sentence have gotten a reprieve and are serving far fewer years behind bars. Meanwhile, more than 60 legal experts and scholars have asked the federal government to cap sentences for juvenile offenders at 30 years, create a committee to review life sentences in the future and reconsider its stance in Briones’ case.

But the move toward greater leniency has been gradual and not without resistance. Briones is among those whose life sentences have been upheld in recent years, though he still has another chance. Prosecutors in his case have opposed a reduced term. They argue despite Briones’ improvements, he minimized his role in the gang and its crimes that terrorized Salt River amid an explosion of gang violence on Native American reservations in the 1990s....

Briones’ case became eligible for resentencing after the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama.  It was part of a series of cases in which the court found minors should be treated differently from adults, partly because of a lack of maturity.  The court previously eliminated the death penalty for juveniles and barred life-without-parole sentences for juveniles except in cases of murder.  A handful of the defendants in the 39 federal cases — most of whom are minorities — have been released from prison.

The Feb. 17 letter seeking reform from the Justice Department pointed to statistics that show the median sentence for adults convicted of murder in the federal system is 20 years — nearly half the median for the juvenile offenders.  “Taking a life is really, really serious, and I don’t belittle that at all,” said Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center, one of the signatories.  “But a full life in prison when you’re a juvenile and you’re talking about 40, 50, 60 years in prison is exceedingly excessive probably in almost every case and not consistent with typical sentences for homicides, even adults.”...

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims rights group, said changes in the law that continually allow juvenile offenders to get another shot at freedom are damaging for the families, communities and the criminal justice system. “Some of these crimes are just very horrible, and the impacts on the families are substantial, and they never go away,” said the group’s president, Michael Rushford.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has long argued the changes a person makes once they’ve entered prison should matter, and juveniles offenders should be able to live as adults outside prison walls.  “If the facts of the crime are always going to be the overpowering force, then Miller isn’t going to be meaningfully interpreted to outweigh all this positive growth,” said Rebecca Turner, who tracks the federal cases for the group.

The federal court in Arizona has resentenced more of the juvenile offenders to life in prison than any other state. Texas has two juvenile offenders who are serving life but weren’t able to be resentenced because of how courts interpreted Miller v. Alabama. South Carolina resentenced one inmate to life.  All three federal cases in Arizona were from Native American reservations, where the federal government has jurisdiction when the suspect, victim or both are Native American for a set of major crimes, including homicide. The penalties, in general, are stricter than if the crimes happened off the reservation and the cases ended up in state court.

April 12, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 08, 2022

A new normal?: federal prison population now growing by over 1000 persons for multiple months

In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March.  Specifically, "Total Federal Inmates," on March 17, 2022 stood at 154,194, nearly 1150 more prisoners than the total number of federal inmates on February 17, 2022, when the number stood at of 153,053.  It is now early April, and checking in at the federal Bureau of Prisons updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates," one now sees that it has only taken three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners.  As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count reads at 155,274, and so another 1080 more federal prisoners have been added to the population compared to the total on March 17.

As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases).  But, whatever the particulars, if this level of month-over-month growth in the federal prison population were to continue through much of the current year, 2022 could end up becoming a year for historically high increases in the federal prison population.  Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes." 

April 8, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (15)

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Brennan Center concludes is terrific essay series titled "Punitive Excess"

In this post last year, I was pleased to spotlight a new essay series unveiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, titled "Punitive Excess."  Today, I received an email noting that the series in concluding in an exciting way (links from the original):

Today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law published the final essay plus a new video (90-second version here) in its Punitive Excess series.  The video includes voices from the essay collection, each showing a different way that the American legal system takes punishment to the extreme. Asia Johnson and Shon Hopwood speak from personal experience with being behind bars. In the last essay for the series, criminal justice experts Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western propose an “honest reckoning” with the harms of punitive excess as the path to a “new vision of justice that promotes community well-being, not oppression, and celebrates democracy, not racial domination.”...

The series will be published as a book by Columbia University Press. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, co-edited the series with Daniel Okrent.

April 5, 2022 in Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, April 02, 2022

"The Trouble with Time Served"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted to SSRN and authored by Kimberly Kessler Ferzan. Here is its abstract:

Every jurisdiction in the United States gives criminal defendants “credit” against their sentence for the time they spend detained pretrial.  In a world of mass incarceration and overcriminalization that disproportionately impacts people of color, this practice appears to be a welcome mechanism for mercy and justice.  In fact, however, crediting detainees for time served is perverse.  It harms the innocent.  A defendant who is found not guilty, or whose case is dismissed, gets nothing.  Crediting time served also allows the state to avoid internalizing the full costs of pretrial detention, thereby making overinclusive detention standards less expensive.  Finally, crediting time served links prevention with punishment, retroactively justifying punitive, substandard conditions.  The bottom line is this: Time served is not a panacea.  To the contrary, it contributes to criminal justice pathologies.

This Article systematically details the rationales for pretrial detention and then analyzes when, given those rationales, credit for time served is warranted.  The analysis reveals that crediting time served is a destructive practice on egalitarian, economic, expressive, and retributive grounds.  Time served should be abandoned.  Detainees should be financially compensated instead.  Given that many detentions are premised upon a theory similar to a Fifth Amendment taking, compensation is warranted for all defendants — both the innocent and the guilty — and can lead to positive reforms.  Only by abandoning credit for time served can the link between prevention and punishment be severed, such that detention will be more limited and more humane.

April 2, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

New report claims many successes attributable to Proposition 47's sentencing reductions in California

The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice has this notable new report on developments in California titled "Proposition 47: A $600 Million Lifeline to California Communities." Here is the 10-page report's introduction (with cites preserved):

Proposition 47 (Prop 47), one of the most significant criminal justice reforms in California history, has now been in effect for more than seven years.  The initiative, which passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2014, sought to interrupt cycles of frequent incarceration and redress decades of overly punitive sentencing by reclassifying several low-level drug and property offenses from potential felonies to misdemeanors (SOS, 2014; 2014a).  The result has been a marked decline in California’s incarcerated population (Bird et al., 2016; 2018; Graves, 2020).

A key provision of Prop 47 was the reinvestment of state dollars from prisons into community-based prevention programs.  This year, as part of his Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-23 budget proposal, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an additional $150 million in prison savings attributed to Prop 47 (DOF, 2022).  This latest investment would increase total funding to nearly $600 million.

Proposition 47 has been a lifeline to vulnerable Californians. This support has proved critical as California now faces an unprecedented set of challenges.  These include significant disruption and loss of life due to COVID-19, a reckoning over police violence against people of color, sharp increases in the cost of living, and rising rates of homelessness and drug overdose.  Most recently, there are changing public narratives around crime and the impacts of justice reform.  To date, Prop 47 has:

1. Coincided with a period of record-low crime in California (CJCJ, 2020; 2020a; 2021; 2021a).

2. Reduced unconstitutional overcrowding in state prisons (Graves, 2020).

3. Offered resentencing, release, and/or record change opportunities to thousands of Californians.

4. Lessened racial disparities in California’s criminal justice system (Lofstrom et al., 2020).

5. Reinvested more than half a billion dollars into local programs that address the root causes of incarceration for as many as 40,000 people by reducing homelessness and boosting employment.

March 30, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 28, 2022

"Decarceration’s Inside Partners"

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

This Article examines a hidden phenomenon in criminal punishment.  People in prison, during their incarceration, have made important, sometimes extraordinary, strides toward reducing prison populations.  In fact, stakeholders in many corners, from policymakers to researchers to abolitionists, have harnessed the legal and conceptual strategies generated inside the walls to pursue decarceral strategies outside the walls that were once considered impossible.  Despite this outside use of inside moves, legal scholars and reform-minded actors have disregarded the potential of looking to people on the inside as partners in the long-term project of decarceration.

Building on the change-making agency and revolutionary ideation inside the walls, this Article points the way to a new, alternative approach to decarceration: thinking alongside people banished from the polity.  Criminal law scholars routinely recount their stories but rarely do we consider people held in prison as thought leaders, let alone equal partners, to progress toward a noncarceral state.  Despite conducting extensive research on prisons and those held inside them, legal scholars know — and wonder — tremendously little about the decarceral work, decarceral ideas and “think tanks” that surge behind bars.  The absence of our curiosity reflects and reproduces the ideological work of carceral punishment.

This Article demonstrates that an alternative vision of decarceration that resists this ideological work opens up more promising paths to create the legal and social change that our current moment demands.  It calls on law scholars to find ways to discover, ignite and emancipate more decarceral visions on the inside.  And it argues that, unless we make this challenging shift, we suppress innovative, effective and more conceivable possibilities to radically transform our carceral state.

March 28, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

"Charging Time"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Pamela Metzger and Janet Hoeffel. Here is its abstract:

On the day William Haymon turned 16, it was his 511th day in jail in Mississippi and a prosecutor had yet to formally charge him with a crime.  William is one of thousands of people across the country arrested and jailed for weeks, months, and even years without charges.  In one year in New Orleans, 275 people each spent an average of 115 days in jail only to have the prosecution decline all charges against them.  Together, these men and women spent 31,625 days in one of the nation’s most dangerous jails, with no compensation for their incarceration, fear, lost wages, shame and distress. Yet this violates no laws; it circumvents no constitutional protections.

To date, there has been no study of the necessity of the extended time period between arrest and charging.  Until a prosecutor decides to accept or decline charges, the arrestee is in a procedural abyss.  In this Article, we explore the equities at stake and the realities at play in this dark period. State statutes give prosecutors extended or indefinite time periods to make the formal charging decision and prosecutors appear to take that time.

A recent original study reveals that prosecutors’ crushing caseloads, shoddy and inadequate investigative work by police officers, and a lack of training or written policies on charging contribute to the delay. From the detained defendants’ perspective, the consequences of delayed charging are steep.  Extended time in jail risks lives, health, jobs and case outcomes.  Yet we explain how neither the constitutional protections granted to criminal defendants nor statutory provisions provide any remedy at this uncharged stage.  After exposing this disturbing state of affairs, we offer practical, subconstitutional solutions to minimize needless delay in the charging decisions of prosecutors across the country.

March 27, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative provides terrific accounting of COVID pandemic's early impact on prison and jail populations

Wendy Sawyer at the Prison Policy Initiative has authored this great new report that effectively explores the various forces that contributed to declining incarcerated populations in the early COVID period. The report, which merits a full and careful read, is fully titled "Untangling why prison & jail populations dropped early in the pandemic: Reductions in prison and jail populations were due to COVID-related slowdowns in the gears of the criminal legal system. Without intentional action, these reductions will be erased." Here is how it gets started (with links from the original):

Last week, we released the latest edition of our Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie report, in which we showed about 1.9 million people locked up by various U.S. systems of confinement, according to the most recent data available.  Out of context, that number would be cause for celebration among those of us fighting to end mass incarceration: it’s almost 400,000 fewer people than were locked up before the pandemic.  Unfortunately, this reduction in the incarcerated population is unlikely to last very long without more lasting policy change.  In fact, fear-mongering about upticks in certain specific crimes may make this work even harder and lead to policy changes that make mass incarceration even more intractable.

It’s important, therefore, to understand what changes — intentional or not — led to the prison and jail population drops in 2020 and 2021. This briefing offers the context needed to temper expectations about sustaining those population drops and to maintain focus on the policy changes needed to permanently reduce the use of confinement. Without those needed changes, we can expect prison and jail populations to return to pre-pandemic “normal” (extreme by any other measure) as the criminal legal system returns to “business as usual.”

The changes that have had the most impact on incarceration since the start of the pandemic include:

  • 24% fewer arrests in 2020 compared to 2019, largely due to changes in everyday behaviors under widespread “stay at home orders,” as well as short-term guidance issued by some police departments to limit unnecessary contact and jail bookings;
  • 21% fewer criminal cases filed in state courts in 2020 compared to 2019 — the result of fewer arrests and changes in some prosecutorial practices;
  • 36% fewer criminal cases resolved in state courts from 2019 to 2020, attributable to court closures, operational changes, and delays in case processing;
  • A 17 percentage point net drop in criminal case clearance rates in state courts, indicating a growing backlog of pending cases;
  • 40% fewer admissions to state and federal prisons in 2020 compared to 2019, largely the result of court slowdowns but also partly due to the refusal of some prisons to accept transfers from local jails to prevent the spread of the virus.

March 25, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution produce "Felony Murder: An On-Ramp for Extreme Sentencing"

The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution today released this interesting new report about sentencing in felony murder cases titled "Felony Murder: An On-Ramp for Extreme Sentencing." Here is part of its executive summary:

Murder typically refers to an intentional killing.  But “felony murder” laws hold people like Mendoza liable for murder if they participated in a felony, such as a robbery, that resulted in someone’s death.  These laws impose sentences associated with murder on people who neither intended to kill nor anticipated a death, and even on those who did not participate in the killing.  As such, they violate the principle of proportional sentencing, which is supposed to punish crimes based on their severity.  These excessively punitive outcomes violate widely shared perceptions of justice.  With one in seven people in U.S. prisons serving a life sentence, ending mass incarceration requires bold action to reduce extreme prison terms such as those prescribed for felony murder.

These laws run counter to public safety, fiscal responsibility, and justice.  Although other countries have largely rejected the felony murder doctrine, 48 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government still use these laws.  The only two states that do not have felony murder laws are Hawaii and Kentucky.  Six other states require some proof of intentionality regarding the killing to consider it murder, though the use of a gun — or mere knowledge of a codefendant’s gun use — satisfies this requirement in some jurisdictions.  In any case, all felony murder laws use the underlying felony to either a) treat as murder a killing that would not have otherwise been considered murder, or b) increase the gradation of murder, such as from second to first degree.

This report evaluates the legal and empirical foundation, and failings, of the felony murder rule, profiles impacted individuals, and highlights recent reform efforts in 10 jurisdictions. Key findings include:

1. Felony murder laws widen the net of extreme sentencing and are counterproductive to public safety.

  • For felony murder convictions for adults, eight states and the federal system mandate LWOP sentences, 15 states mandate LWOP in some cases, and 17 states and Washington, DC make LWOP a sentencing option.  Four states permit or require a virtual life sentence of 50 years or longer for some or all felony murder convictions.
  • In Pennsylvania and Michigan, one quarter of people serving LWOP were convicted of felony murder — over 1,000 people in each state.
  • Felony murder laws have not significantly reduced felonies nor lowered the number of felonies that become deadly.
  • The extreme prison sentences associated with felony murder laws add upward pressure on the entire sentencing structure.
  • Felony murder laws spend taxpayer dollars on incarcerating people who no longer pose a danger to the community and divert resources away from effective investments that promote public safety.
2. Felony murder laws have particularly adverse impacts on people of color, young people, and women.
  • In Pennsylvania in 2020, 80% of imprisoned individuals with a felony murder conviction were people of color and 70% were African American.
  • Felony murder laws ignore the cognitive vulnerabilities of youth and emerging adults by assuming that they recognize the remote consequences of their own actions — and those of others in their group. In Pennsylvania, nearly three-quarters of people serving LWOP for felony murder in 2019 were age 25 or younger at the time of their offense, as were over half of Minnesotans charged with aiding and abetting felony murder in recent years.
  • An exploratory survey in California found that 72% of women but only 55% of men serving a life sentence for felony murder were not the perpetrators of the homicide.  The California Coalition for Women Prisoners reports that the majority of their members convicted of felony murder were accomplices navigating intimate partner violence at the time of the offense and were criminalized for acts of survival.

March 23, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, March 18, 2022

Federal prison population, now at 154,194, has grown by well over 1100 persons in a short month

In this post last month, I suggested it may be foolish to be obsessed with weekly federal prison population data.  But, I cannot help myself in light of the roller-coaster story of recent times: after historic federal prison population declines over the last two presidential terms (for a wide variety of reasons), the federal prison population slowly climbed through 2021 before another big drop in early 2022 with the implementation of FIRST STEP earned-time credits.

Checking in this week at the federal Bureau of Prisons updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates," I see that we are back to the up-slope of this roller-coaster ride.  Specifically, "Total Federal Inmates," now clocks in at 154,194, nearly 1150 more prisoners than the total number of federal inmates as of just four weeks ago, February 17, 2022, when the number stood at of 153,053.  

I continue to suspect and assume this new data reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and many fewer COVID-related releases) producing this significant one-month federal prison population growth.  But, whatever the particulars, I will not forget that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."  Fourteen months into his administration, I am unaware of any bold action taken by Prez Biden and he has still yet to use his clemency power a single time, let alone broadly.

March 18, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

New Sentencing Project report details scope of youth confinement

This new report from The Sentencing Project, titled "Too Many Locked Doors" and authored by Josh Rovner, documents the "wide and deep footprint of youth incarceration." Here is the start of its Executive SUmmary:

The United States incarcerates an alarming number of children and adolescents every year.  Disproportionately, they are youth of color.

Given the short- and long-term damages stemming from youth out of home placement, it is vital to understand its true scope. In 2019, there were more than 240,000 instances of a young person detained, committed, or both in the juvenile justice system.  However, youth incarceration is typically measured via a one-day count taken in late October.

This metric vastly understates its footprint: at least 80% of incarcerated youth are excluded from the one-day count.

This under-count is most prevalent for detained youth, all of whom have been arrested but have yet to face a court hearing. The following are examples of the systemic under-representation of detained youth in the one-day count:

• Thirty-one youths charged with drug offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Twenty-five youths charged with public order offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Seventeen youths charged with property offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Eleven youths charged with person offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

The variances in commitment are smaller but still noteworthy: more than three youth are committed each calendar year for each youth appearing in the one-day count.

The decade-long drop in detention and commitment masks how common detention remains for youth in conflict with the law. Hundreds of thousands of youth are referred to juvenile courts annually; roughly one-quarter of the time, they are detained.  That proportion has crept upward over a decade in which arrests have declined dramatically.

Data on youth detentions and commitment reveal sharp racial and ethnic disparities. Youth of color encounter police more often than their white peers and are disproportionately arrested despite modest differences in behavior that cannot explain the extent of arrest disparities.  Disparities in incarceration start with arrests but grow at each point of contact along the justice system continuum. In roughly one-quarter of delinquency cases throughout the decade, a youth was detained pre-adjudication. When youth of color are arrested, they are more likely to be detained than their white peers.

March 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022"

Wholepie22_twittercard_800x418Many folks like calling March 14 "Pi Day," and for sentencing fans today is especially worth celebrating because the amazing folks at the Prison Policy Initiative have today posted their latest, greatest version of PPI's amazing incarceration "pie" graphic and associated report. "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022" provides a spectacular accounting of the particulars of who and how people are incarcerated in the United States.  As I have said in the past, the extraordinary "pies" produced by PPI impart more information in one image than just about any other single resource.  Here is part of the report's introductory text and the concluding discussion:

Can it really be true that most people in jail are legally innocent? How much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs, or the profit motives of private prisons? How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed decisions about how people are punished when they break the law? These essential questions are harder to answer than you might expect. The various government agencies involved in the criminal legal system collect a lot of data, but very little is designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one “criminal justice system;” instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

This report offers some much-needed clarity by piecing together the data about this country’s disparate systems of confinement. It provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration and overlooked issues that call for reform....

The United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Looking at the big picture of the 1.9 million people locked up in the United States on any given day, we can see that something needs to change. Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice of the carceral pie and ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each group behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.

Even narrow policy changes, like reforms to bail, can meaningfully reduce our society’s use of incarceration. At the same time, we should be wary of proposed reforms that seem promising but will have only minimal effect, because they simply transfer people from one slice of the correctional “pie” to another or needlessly exclude broad swaths of people. Keeping the big picture in mind is critical if we hope to develop strategies that actually shrink the “whole pie.”

March 14, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Highlighting some disparities identified in recent "Dealing in Lives" report on federal life sentences for drug offenses

In this post a few days ago, I spotlighted this terrific new research paper authored by Alex Fraga, who serves as a Senior Research Associate at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).  The paper, titled "Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020," is the focal point of this new Filter article titled "Federal Life Sentences for Drugs: Unconscionable and Massively Biased." Here is some of the coverage:

Studying federal life and de facto life sentences for drugs in federal courts from 1990 to 2020, Dr. Fraga found stunningly awful racial disparities.  Federal life sentences are practically reserved for defendants who are Black (62.4 percent) or Hispanic (22 percent).  Crack cocaine was the drug involved in roughly half of federal life sentences, yet the disparities held independent of drug type.

In addition, many people were punished more harshly for wanting to exercise their constitutional rights.  As Fraga writes, “An astonishing 72% percent of those sentenced to life or de facto life for drug trafficking exercised their right to trial.”

When the system is largely a conveyor belt of plea bargains, with over 90 percent of cases never going to trial, “astonishing” is right.  Defendants who demand that prosecutors meet their burden of proof are often hit with harsher charges and sentencing outcomes.... 

Yet another layer of inconsistency and arbitrariness in federal drug sentencing exposed by the report covers is geography-based. Just five districts — three in Florida, one in Virginia and one in South Carolina — accounted for 25 percent of all federal life and de facto life sentences imposed for drug trafficking during the study period.  For context, there are 93 federal court districts in the nation. Each has its own presidentially-appointed US attorney, who enjoys a wide band of discretion on who to charge and with what.

How could this happen? Despite ostensible efforts toward uniformity, federal courthouses in different parts of the country have developed their own local legal cultures. For example, in southern Georgia, there is no public defender office for impoverished people charged with federal crimes; they receive appointed attorneys who are often uninvested and lack expertise in criminal law.  That district also has some of the harshest sentencing outcomes in the country.

I am grateful to see this engagement with some of the data in the new report, and there are so many other interesting findings therein.  As mentioned previously, a number of the paper's key findings (and visuals) can be viewed at this DEPC webpage.

Prior related post:

March 10, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12)

Vera Institute of Justice provides very latest prison data with "People in Prison in Winter 2021-2022"

The Vera Institute of Justice is continuing to do terrific work on the challenging task of collecting (close-to-real-time) data on the number of people in state and federal prisons.  Vera is now regularly reporting much more timely information on incarceration than the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which often releases data that lags a full year or more behind.  Vera's latest effort is "People in Prison in Winter 2021-22," and this press release provide context and an overview: 

Despite continued calls to release people from prisons in response to COVID-19, the total number of people in prisons declined by a mere 1.1% between December 2020 and December 2021 according to People in Prison in Winter 2021-2022, a report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice.  The winter iteration of this report highlights that, in contrast to the uniform declines of 2020, the number of people incarcerated in two out of five of the nation’s prison systems are trending upward....

While prison incarceration remains 16 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels, data shows a troubling reversal in many states.  By year-end 2021, 19 states and the federal government increased the number of people incarcerated in prisons.  Two states with large declines in their prison populations in 2020 had the largest increases in 2021 – North Dakota’s prison population declined 21.9 percent in 2020 but increased 20.6 percent in 2021, and West Virginia saw a 43.6 percent decline in 2020, then 12.9 percent growth in 2021.  The nation has not seen this kind of growth in decades: The single-year increase in North Dakota is higher than any state’s single-year increase since 1997, and the number of states with increases of more than 5 percent is the largest since 1999.

In contrast, other states continued to decrease their prison populations – Washington State’s total prison population declined 14 percent in 2021, after declining 18 percent the previous year. New York was down 10.7 percent after declining 20.8 percent in 2020, Arizona was down 10.2 percent in 2021 after a 11.1 percent decrease in 2020.

The overall number of people incarcerated by federal agencies also rose 5 percent between December 2020 and December 2021.  The number of people in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody rose 3.6 percent, the number of people detained for the United States Marshals Service (USMS) rose 1 percent, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention jumped 33.7 percent.

“While some states made policy choices to reduce prison populations during the pandemic, the data show unmistakable backsliding by many U.S. states and the federal government,” wrote Jacob Kang-Brown, Senior Research Associate for Vera and author of the report. “The best evidence demonstrates that releasing more people from prison can help mitigate the public health harms of incarceration without jeopardizing public safety.”

March 10, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 07, 2022

"Plea Bargaining and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this recent paper authored by Albert Alschuler available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The United States, which imprisons a higher proportion of its population than any other nation, is also the nation most dependent on plea bargaining.  This Article shows that plea bargaining was a major cause of mass incarceration. Bargaining not only increased the number of people sent to prison but also produced harsher sentences than would have existed in its absence.

American incarceration rates rose sharply just after the Supreme Court and the American Bar Association declared plea bargaining legitimate and beneficial. This Article shows how courts and legislatures then enhanced the power of prosecutors and how prosecutors used their power to charge more people with crimes, induce more guilty pleas, exact broader waivers of rights, and obtain more severe sentences.

March 7, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, March 06, 2022

"Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020"

I am extraordinarily pleased and proud to be able spotlight this terrific new research paper authored by Alex Fraga, who serves as a Senior Research Associate at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).  The paper shares the title of this post, and the work is an extraordinary compilation and examination of federal drug life sentence.  Here is the paper's abstract:

The “tough on crime” era of the 1980’s and 1990’s ushered in a growing reliance on prisons, the ratcheting up of sentence lengths, and a broader expansion of the criminal justice system.  Life sentences, historically rarely imposed, became increasingly commonplace in the 1980s through the 2000s, contributing to the ballooning imprisoned population. While there are growing concerns about the increased use of life sentences in the United States, there has been limited empirical study of these sentences.  This report seeks to fill this gap with a particular focus on the federal sentencing system and the imposition of life sentences for drug offenses.  Specifically, the current report documents federal life sentences imposed for drug trafficking over the last three decades, taking a closer look at the defendant and case-specific characteristics, and providing a descriptive account of the factors that are associated with those sentenced to life in prison in federal courts.

At this DEPC webpage, a number of the paper's key findings (and visuals) can be viewed.  Here is the first one:

Key Finding 1:  After record highs in the 1990s and 2000s, the number and rate of life and de facto life sentences imposed have declined significantly over the last decade.

March 6, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases "new toolkit for advocates working to end mass incarceration"

Regular readers are familiar with my regular postings about the great work by Prison Policy Initiative on many topics related to prison policies and broader criminal justice practices. This is another such post flagging this PPI post noting its new "toolkit" sharing tips and lessons "learned over two decades of using data, visuals, and narratives to expose the harms of mass incarceration."  Here is how the post starts with links from the original:

we’re launching our new Advocacy Toolkit, a collection of guides and training materials that advocates can use to strengthen their campaigns to end mass incarceration.  The toolkit builds on lessons we’ve learned from our two decades of work to improve our criminal legal system. It provides skills-based guides on accessing public recordssecuring and organizing data, crafting persuasive narratives, and creating impactful visuals. It also includes issue-based guides on protecting in-person visits in prisons and jails, opposing jail expansion, and ending prison gerrymandering. We plan to add additional resources in the future.

Our new advocacy department created this toolkit as part of our expanded effort to support the people and groups on the ground doing the hard work to end mass incarceration.

While most advocacy departments organize campaigns, mobilize volunteers, and pressure decision-makers for change, ours is a bit different. We’re not looking to replicate the amazing work that thousands of people and hundreds of organizations are already doing to reform the criminal legal system. Instead, as a research organization known for using data visualizations and easy-to-understand narratives, our advocacy work aims to help these organizations leverage our expertise to strengthen their campaigns. 

March 3, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

New Pew report spotlights "Drug Arrests Stayed High Even as Imprisonment Fell From 2009 to 2019"

Drug arrests Fig-1The quoted part of the title of this post is the title of this awesome new "issue brief" from the folks at Pew.  The full document merits close and repeated review, because there are stories both good and bad about this effective (pre-pandemic) accounting of the war on drugs. Here is part of the overview:

Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy No. 1,” and Congress passed legislation that sought to expand treatment and research. However, at the same time, intensified enforcement launched what became known as the “War on Drugs.” The harsher penalties led to a 1,216% increase in the state prison population for drug offenses, from 19,000 to 250,000 between 1980 and 2008.  And although prison populations have since declined, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses remains substantially larger than in 1980 — more than 171,000 in 2019 — and drug misuse and its harms have continued to grow.  Prior research has found that no relationship exists between state drug imprisonment rates and drug use or drug overdose deaths and that, from 2009 to 2019, past-year illicit drug use among Americans 12 or older increased from 15% to nearly 21% and the overdose death rate more than tripled.

To better identify and understand recent changes in and effects of the use of the criminal legal system to address drug problems, The Pew Charitable Trusts analyzed publicly available national data on drug arrests and imprisonment, drug treatment, and harm from drug misuse from 2009 through 2019 — the most recent decade for which data is available. The study found divergent enforcement trends—high rates of arrest but substantially reduced incarceration — coupled with a lack of treatment options and high mortality rates among people with illicit drug dependence.

  • Drug possession arrests held steady at more than a million a year, in stark contrast with a large reduction in overall arrests, which dropped 29%.

  • Only 1 in 13 people who were arrested and had a drug dependency received treatment while in jail or prison.

  • Racial disparities in drug enforcement declined. Arrests of Black people for drug offenses fell by 37%, more than three times the drop among White people.

  • Increased arrests of White individuals for possession of methamphetamine offset declines in marijuana arrests and drove the reduction in racial disparities.

  • The numbers of people admitted to and held in state prisons for drug offenses both fell by about a third, accounting for 61% of the overall reduction in prison populations and 38% of the total decline in admissions.

  • The decline in the number of Black people incarcerated for drug offenses made up 26% of the decrease in prison admissions and 48% of the drop in the prison population.

  • Drug- and alcohol-related mortality rates increased fivefold in prisons and threefold in jails despite the decreases in the number of people in prison for drug offenses.

These trends indicate both an ongoing reliance on the criminal legal system to address drug misuse and that this strategy is costly and ineffective.  Meaningful reductions in total drug arrests and drug-related deaths may not be achieved without shifting to a public health response that prioritizes evidence-based treatment approaches.

February 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, February 14, 2022

New Intercept series explores "the effects of the climate crisis on incarcerated people"

Via email I learned of an interesting new project looking at the intersection of mass incarceration and climate change in the United States.  Here is how the project is described at the start of the email sent my way:

The Intercept has launched “Climate and Punishment,” a data-driven investigation by reporter Alleen Brown on the effects of the climate crisis on incarcerated people.  The project harnesses datasets for heat risk, wildfire risk, and flood risk and juxtaposes them against a federal government index of facilities from across the United States’s sprawling mass incarceration system. Our findings reveal dire conditions in prisons across the country – conditions that are set to deteriorate as the climate crisis worsens – and highlights the political figures and institutional morass that are leaving these communities at risk.

The Intercept is publishing an initial suite of three stories and one short film, with a collection to follow for continuing coverage. Each of the first three stories highlight the impact of heat, wildfires, and floods on incarcerated people, respectively, and the 10-minute documentary follows several individuals whose lives have been impacted by extreme heat and wildfires while they or their loved ones were incarcerated.  A project-specific webpage shepherds readers to our original reporting, searchable interactive features with visual representations of detention facilities mapped against climate risks, and videos that tell the stories of families and facilities that have been affected by worsening environmental conditions.
 
In “Trapped in the Floods,” Brown details the flooding events at a detention facility in Dixie County, Florida, where prisoners became trapped in ankle-deep water contaminated with human feces. According to The Intercept's analysis, 621 facilities across the U.S. have major- to extreme- flood risk. 
 
"Boiling Behind Bars" focuses on the effects of extreme heat on incarcerated people and on the alarming conditions at Coffield Unit, a state prison near Palestine, Texas. Coffield is among the hottest places in the nation for incarcerated people, and temperatures are expected to rise in the coming years. As of 2020, Coffield was one of 21 Texas state prisons with no air conditioning, according to public records obtained by the Texas Prisons Air-Conditioning Advocates, an organization founded by Casey Phillips. (By the end of the century, thousands of U.S. detention facilities will see sustained dangerous temperatures — sometimes running more than 50 days a year.) 
 
Dark, Smoky Cells” highlights the consequences of the 2021 Dixie fire on a prison in Susanville, CA, where inmates were without lights for nearly a month after the facility’s backup generator failed. No power meant no cooking, no televisions to furnish a distraction. Time in the communal day room was scrapped. Prisoners could only rarely call their loved ones. Toilets stopped working for hours at a time and the ventilation systems would go down as smoke wafted into the facility. (A California prisons official said the facility was “running full-power operations.”) 

February 14, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Two former Attorneys General recap criminal justice challenges two years into the pandemic

Two notable former US Attorneys General, Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch, who are co-chairs of the CCJ National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. have this notable new Hill commentary under the headline "Omicron is creating new havoc in our criminal justice system."  The piece is worth a full read because it is not all doom and gloom, and here is how it starts:

Just over a year ago, a national commission we led put forth a sweeping set of solutions for a criminal justice system wracked by COVID-19.  Today, with the Omicron variant spreading nationwide, we believe those recommendations are more urgent than ever — and can help rebalance public health and safety to forge a better post-pandemic future.

In the months that have passed since the report from our National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, many justice system leaders have continued to make laudable progress in mitigating the pandemic’s effects, using technology, innovation and their own talents to adapt and adjust policies and practices for the better. 

The Biden administration’s decision to allow thousands of nonviolent offenders released from federal prisons because of the COVID threat to remain on home confinement is one recent and sensible example, especially because many of those affected were near the end of their sentences.

In another low-profile but high-impact development, leaders in the nation’s probation and parole agencies tell us that the pandemic switch to mostly remote supervision has improved the human connection between officers and the hundreds of thousands of people they oversee, who, by and large, have not absconded as some had feared.  In many states, this is a positive change that’s here to stay.

Yet major problems persist across the criminal justice system, and in some ways have intensified.  Omicron is causing renewed disruptions, with detainees at New York’s Rikers Island jail protesting what they call dangerous conditions, and California prisons reporting a “staggering rise” in infections among employees.  Systemwide, prison and jail populations that had been safely reduced to contain the virus are rebounding, posing renewed risks to incarcerated people and staff.

And in our courts, operations have been slowed by crushing case backlogs.  In Fulton County, Ga., home of Atlanta, the number of backlogged cases surpassed 11,000 — in a state with a backlog of 206,000 — including approximately 600 murder cases awaiting trial.  In Seattle, a judge estimated that even excluding nonviolent cases, it would take 13 years to clear the logjam.

These and other ongoing challenges are clear signals that we must do more to meet this moment — and ensure our post-pandemic system is better equipped to balance health, safety and justice for all.

February 14, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative provides latest update on incarceration populations two years into the COVID pandemic

The folks at the Prison Policy Initiative always impress me with cutting-edge research and analysis in the form of "Briefings," and the latest report here provides a particularly interesting account what we know about prison and jail populations in the US two years into the pandemic.  The full briefing should be read in full, and the full title provide a bit of a summary of the themes: "State prisons and local jails appear indifferent to COVID outbreaks, refuse to depopulate dangerous facilities; While some prison systems and local jails have maintained historically low populations, others have returned to pre-pandemic levels, despite the ongoing dangers of COVID-19 and new, more transmissible variants."

I cannot readily summarize all the insights and data covered in this new PPI report, but here are excerpts (with links from the original):

In state and federal prisons, over 2,900 people have died of COVID-19, almost 476,000 people have been infected, and thousands of additional cases are linked to individual county jails. Even now, when more than 75% of people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the vaccine, correctional staff are hesitant to get vaccinated or receive boosters, and prison systems are slow to roll out boosters to incarcerated people.  As the more contagious Omicron variant ravages parts of the nation and renders hospitals completely overrun, nearly three quarters of prisons are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks; public health officials continue to recommend reducing prison populations as a primary method of risk reduction.  In fact, in October 2021, the American Public Health Association adopted a policy in support of decarceration as a public health matter and new research shows the detrimental effect of COVID-19 on all-cause mortality in state prisons.  Despite the clear need for smaller confined populations, the data show that with just a few exceptions, state and local authorities are allowing their prison and jail populations to return to dangerous, pre-pandemic levels.

The federal Bureau of Prisons, state governments and departments of corrections, and local justice system officials have a responsibility to protect the health and lives of those who are incarcerated. After almost two years of outbreak after outbreak in prisons and jails, correctional authorities must be held accountable for their repeated failure to reduce populations enough to prevent the illness and death of those who are incarcerated and in surrounding communities.

Prisons

Even in states where prison populations have dropped, there are still too many people behind bars to accommodate social distancing, effective isolation and quarantine, and the increased health care needs of incarcerated people. For example, although California has reduced the state prison population by about 18% since the start of the pandemic, it has not been enough to prevent large COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prisons, and the prison system has witnessed a 300% increase in infections among incarcerated people over the past few weeks and a 212% increase in cases among staff.  In fact, as of December 15th, 2021, California’s prisons were still holding more people than they were designed for, at 113% of their design capacity (and up from 103% in January 2021).  Considering the continued overcrowding in the California prison system, it’s not surprising that the state is responsible for eight out of the ten largest COVID-19 prison clusters....

Many states’ prison populations are the lowest they’ve been in decades, but this is not because more people are being released from prisons; in fact, fewer people are. Data from 2020, recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, shows that prisons nationwide released 10% fewer people in 2020 than in 2019. Instead, data suggest most of the population drops we’ve seen over the past 20 months are due to reduced prison admissions, not increasing releases....

Jails

Jail populations, like prison populations, are lower now than they were pre-pandemic. Initially, many local officials — including sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges — responded quickly to COVID-19 and reduced their jail populations. In a national sample of 415 county jails of varying sizes, almost all (98%) decreased their populations from March to May of 2020, resulting in an average change of a 33% population decrease across all 415 jails at the start of COVID-19. These population reductions came as the result of various policy changes, including police issuing citations in lieu of arrests, prosecutors declining to charge people for “low-level offenses,” courts reducing cash bail amounts, and jail administrators releasing people detained pretrial or those serving short sentences for “nonviolent” offenses.

But those early-pandemic, common-sense policy changes didn’t last long. Between May 2020 and February 2021, the populations of 83% of the jails in our sample increased, reversing course from the earlier months of the pandemic. As of December 2021, 28% of the jails in our sample have higher populations now than they did in March 2020.  Overall, the average population change across these 415 jails from March 2020 to December 2021 has diminished to only a 10% decrease, while the average population change from July 2021 to December 2021 has dropped to 0%, suggesting that the early reforms instituted to mitigate COVID-19 have largely been abandoned.

February 10, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

"How 4 States Cut Their Criminal Justice Budgets Without Sacrificing Safety"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article from the  Winter 2022  edition of State Legislatures magazine produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures.   I recommend this piece in full, and here is how it begins and a few highlights:

About 5% of states’ general fund budgets go to criminal justice — just over $45 billion in fiscal year 2019 — so many lawmakers are determined to make every dollar count.  But that’s not as easy as it might sound.

“The challenge for legislators is to reduce the use of high-cost, low-return policies and shift the savings into programs that have been shown to reduce crime,” says Jake Horowitz, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project.

Lawmakers have a variety of policy options at their disposal, but what actually works? Programs in Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon and Missouri provide some answers.

Louisiana: Reducing Prison Admissions...

Michigan: Shortening Jail Stays...

Oregon: Shoring Up Short-Term Transitional Leave...

Missouri: Reducing Revocations of Community Supervision...

“When people have access to high quality behavioral health services, interactions with law enforcement go down and, in the long term, we see reductions in the number of people in the criminal justice system,” says Alison Lawrence, associate director of NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program.

Corrections research departments are another valuable resource.  Lawmakers looking for effective ways to reduce their criminal justice budgets are finding that public safety and researched-backed corrections policy go hand in hand.  Cutting a research department, Horowitz says, “You might save a fully loaded salary, but then you’re flying blind, and you don’t know what is driving your costs.”

February 9, 2022 in Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 30, 2022

"Unraveling mass incarceration: Criminology's role in the policy process"

The title of this post is the title of this new article by Daniel Nagin in the journal Criminology.  This piece is adapted from an address delivered at the 2021 annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in November 2021.  Here is its abstract:

In this address I argue that large reductions in unproductive and unjust uses of imprisonment requires curtailment of the over use of life imprisonment.  I go on to discuss how criminologists should engage the policy process to achieve material reductions in prison populations by the accumulation of many incremental reductions in the overuse of incarceration.

January 30, 2022 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Notable new report on juve LWOP reviews "Montgomery v. Louisiana Six Years Later: Progress and Outliers"

This morning I received this email from the folks at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth that highlighting this new report "Montgomery v. Louisiana Six Years Later: Progress and Outliers." The full short report is worth a full read, and the emails provides this brief accounting of the report's coverage:

Six years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, making Miller v. Alabama’s requirement that judges consider the mitigating attributes of youth retroactive and offering new hope to thousands of people who had been sentenced to life without parole as children.  For many, that hope has led to shorter prison sentences, and for hundreds of others, it’s meant freedom.  At the time of the decision, 2,800 individuals in the U.S. were serving life without parole for crimes committed as children.  In the six years since, 835 individuals formerly serving this sentence have been released from prison. 

Today, 25 states and the District of Columbia ban life-without-parole sentences for children, and in six additional states, no one is serving life without parole for a crime committed as a child.  While we celebrate this inspiring progress, we recognize that far too many others have not yet received the relief they rightfully deserve.  Thus, we are pressing forward in the fight for these individuals across all areas of our work, with a particular focus on state legislatures and advocacy in outlier states. You can read more about how far we have come and the challenges we still face in this report authored by Rebecca Turner, the CFSY’s Senior Litigation Counsel.  

The full report gives particular attention to developments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Louisiana, which "each had more children sentenced to life without parole than any other state in the country" when Montgomery was handed down.  Here is how the report describes subsequent developments in those states and nationwide:

A majority of the 2,800 individuals serving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) following Miller have been resentenced in court or had their sentences amended via legislation, depending on the jurisdiction in which they were convicted.

Yet despite the 80% reduction in people serving JLWOP, jurisdictions have varied significantly in their implementation of Miller. As a result, relief afforded to individuals serving JLWOP is based more on jurisdiction than on whether the individual has demonstrated positive growth and maturation.

The uneven implementation of Miller disproportionately impacts Black individuals, who represent 61% of the total JLWOP population....

Within that population [serving JLWOP when Montgomery was decided], 29% have been released, over 50% have had their sentences reduced from JLWOP, about 17% have not yet been afforded relief, and approximately 3% have been resentenced to JLWOP.

January 25, 2022 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Due surely to implementation of FIRST STEP earned-time credits, federal prison population drops by nearly 4,000 in one week

As noted in this prior post from last Thursday, the Department of Justice last week officially announced its new rule for "implementing the Time Credits program required by the First Step Act" and began awarding retroactive credits to those who were eligible and had already done the work to earn credits.  In my post, I commented that, with the retroactive application of these credits, it would be interesting to see if the federal prison population (which as of Jan 13 BOP reported at 157,596 "Total Federal Inmates") would start to decline.  

A week later, on the first day that BOP updates here its reports of "Total Federal Inmates," there is a dramatic change in the total federal prison population.  Specifically, this morning BOP reports 153,855 "Total Federal Inmates," a decline of 3,741 persons now federal inmates.  This roughly 2.5% drop in the federal inmate population in one week is surely the result of the implementation of FIRST STEP Act earned-time credits, and it will now be interested to see if there are continued drops in the weeks ahead.  (I suspect there will be as implementation must take more than just a week, though I will be very surprised if there are subsequent drops as large as this one.)

Among the notable parts of this story is that it represents a bi-partisan, multi-Congress, multi-administration achievement many years in the making.  Of course, the formal law making this possible was the FIRST STEP Act which was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress in 2018 and which President Trump signed after he helped get to the bill to the finish line.  But, well before that bill was passed, congressional leaders and the Justice Department during the Obama years had started drafting and building consensus around the prison reform elements of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (first discussed here in October 2015).  And now, of course, it is the Justice Department of the Biden Administration that finalized and now implements this important earned-time credits program required by the FIRST STEP Act.   

Prior recent related posts:

January 20, 2022 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Rounding up some more notable recent criminal justice reads at the start the new year

Though the new year is now just two week old, I have seen more than two weeks worth of interesting reads that I have not had a chance to blog about.   I did a round up last Sunday here, but here are a bunch more pieces worth checking out:

From the Christian Science Monitor, "A step toward better justice: Prying open the ‘black box’ of plea deals"

From the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, "A radical new approach to measuring recidivism risk"

From Governing, "Prison Population Drops as States Revamp Admission Policies: State prisons quickly adjusted policies and procedures when the coronavirus pandemic hit to ensure the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals and staff. If these pandemic changes become permanent, states could save $2.7 billion annually."

From The Hill, "Colorado trucker's case provides pathways to revive pardon power"

From the Los Angeles Times, "California was supposed to clear cannabis convictions. Tens of thousands are still languishing"

From The Marshall Project, "People in the Scandal-Plagued Federal Prison System Reveal What They Need in a New Director: 'This is kind of like AA: To move forward, first you have to admit there’s a problem'."

From NBC News, "The Federal Bureau of Prisons is getting a new leader — and another shot at reforms: A year after taking office, President Joe Biden has disappointed many prisoners and guards who were hoping for big changes. Now he has a chance to do more."

From the Prison Policy Initiative, "New data: The changes in prisons, jails, probation, and parole in the first year of the pandemic: Newly released data from 2020 show the impact of early-pandemic correctional policy choices and what kind of change is possible under pressure.  But the data also show how inadequate, uneven, and unsustained policy changes have been: most have already been reversed."

From the UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Data Project, "New Report Shows Prison Releases Decreased During The Pandemic, Despite A Drop In Incarceration"

From Washington Monthly, "Critical Race Query: If America is irredeemable, why are racial disparities in the criminal justice system plummeting?"

January 16, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

"A Call to Reform Federal Solitary Confinement"

The title of this post is the title of this effective new report authored by Ilanit Turner and Noelle Collins with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Here is part of its executive summary (with cited removed):

Federal solitary confinement is in desperate need of repair. After a 40-year spike in federal incarceration rates beginning in 1980 has tapered off, a bipartisan consensus for solitary confinement reform is finally starting to crystallize.

What was once considered a last-resort disciplinary practice in federal prisons has morphed into a default option when other correctional and administrative protocols fail on their first try.  This paper is the latest installment in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s series of publications entailing prescriptions for local, state, and federal prison reform. Our research is especially timely as prison officials continue to misuse segregated housing units for medical isolation to combat COVID-19.  Because prison officials know they have limited alternatives to curb transmission, improperly using COVID-19 as a justification for solitary confinement is apparently a tempting option.  Warehousing sick inmates poses a unique challenge as those who report symptoms are unjustifiably forced to endure an experience known to cause mental and physical harm.

The current landscape of solitary confinement data released on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website is insufficient.  The information on the precise order of operations for the types of infractions that land inmates in solitary is vague, publications of hearings considered for segregation are unavailable, and it is nearly impossible to determine the total length of time served in solitary confinement by each inmate.  Holding BOP accountable for this information should be emphasized if change is to be effected.

Any information that is known about solitary confinement reaches the outside world a day late and a policy short.  Charles Dickens (1842), a notable critic of the American penitentiary system, alluded to the effect of ignorance of solitude in his prescient observation a century and a half earlier, “this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, [is] immeasurably worse than any torture of the body… and therefore I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay”. Little has changed. The prolonged effects of solitary confinement take the form of irreversible physical and mental health disorders.  When isolated inmates are granted the long-awaited second chance for release right after solitary confinement, they reoffend in rates disproportionately higher than the general prison population. Long durations in segregation exacerbate mental illnesses, leading to bouts of psychosis.  This prevents inmates from integrating back into the labor market, much less society in general, and is correlated with higher rates of criminal episodes.

The Foundation offers a list of policy solutions to improve the status quo of federal solitary confinement.  First and foremost, data transparency is essential. Pulling back the bureaucratic curtain of the federal prison system will reinforce administrative rectitude when deciding to use solitary confinement. Enhancing due process and ongoing review is another way to redirect prison officials to alternative punitive measures.  The BOP should also consider expanding educational and rehabilitative programming for inmates in isolation, as these changes will reduce occupancy and recidivism rates with a single policy adjustment.  Lastly, the BOP system owes it to the public to reduce violence and suicide for inmates in solitary by improving mental health assessments.  Addressing these issues can also reveal areas of endemic corruption that lead to further misuse of this practice. 

January 13, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Senator Cotton criticizes new OLC opinion on CARES home confinement and asks AG Garland lots of follow-up questions

Though the season of the Grinch may be over, US Senator Tom Cotton is starting the new year full of grinchy grouchiness about various criminal justice issues.  I noted here his recent foolish op-ed fretting about a "jailbreak" and an "under-incarceration crisis," and now a helpful colleague made sure I did not miss this press release from the Senator's office titled "Cotton Demands Answers from DOJ About Releasing Criminals to Home Confinement."  Here is how the release starts:

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) today wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland regarding the Department of Justice’s recent decision to ignore the clear limits placed by Congress on pandemic-related home confinement of convicted federal criminals.

In part, Cotton wrote, “The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel correctly concluded in January 2021 that the only tenable reading of the CARES Act is that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) could only exercise expanded home confinement placement authority during the coronavirus national emergency, and that the law requires that the BOP return such inmates to prison and follow the limits of longstanding federal law following the end of the emergency.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that you have now decided to bow to the pressure from political activists rather than do your job.  The Office of Legal Counsel, at your direction, issued a slapdash opinion reversing itself in December 2021.  That new opinion is not based on the law, but rather on the policy goals of criminal leniency,” Cotton continued.

The full three-page letter may be found here at this link, and there is more Tom Cotton "tough and tougher" bluster at the start of the letter.  But the questions that make up the heart of the letter are intriguing on a number of fronts, and I would be especially interested to see if and how AG Garland and his team responds to these closing queries:

Please provide a list of all inmates who are currently placed on home confinement under the temporary authority granted by the CARES Act, broken down by primary offense, total sentence length, and the number of months remaining under their sentence. 

How many inmates who were placed on home confinement under the temporary authority granted by the CARES Act have had their home confinement rescinded or have been rearrested for a new offense?  Please provide a description of the offenses for which any such inmates have been rearrested, or the reasons for which their home confinement was rescinded.

Just a few of many prior related posts:

January 4, 2022 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Fascinating sentencing sentiments and commitments in new policy memo from new Manhattan DA

A notable new staff memo from the new Manhattan DA is making new headlines, such as this notable one from the New York Post: "Manhattan DA to stop seeking prison sentences in slew of criminal cases."  Here is a bit of context from the press piece:

Manhattan’s new DA has ordered his prosecutors to stop seeking prison sentences for hordes of criminals and to downgrade felony charges in cases including armed robberies and drug dealing, according to a set of progressive policies made public Tuesday.

In his first memo to staff on Monday, Alvin Bragg said his office “will not seek a carceral sentence” except with homicides and a handful of other cases, including domestic violence felonies, some sex crimes and public corruption. “This rule may be excepted only in extraordinary circumstances based on a holistic analysis of the facts, criminal history, victim’s input (particularly in cases of violence or trauma), and any other information available,” the memo reads.

Assistant district attorneys must also now keep in mind the “impacts of incarceration” including on public safety, barriers to housing and employment, financial cost and race disparities, Bragg instructed.

In cases where prosecutors do seek to put a convict behind bars, the request can be for no more than 20 years for a determinate sentence, meaning one that can’t be reviewed or changed by a parole board. “The Office shall not seek a sentence of life without parole,” the memo states.

This "first memo to staff" includes a three-page introductory accounting of DA Bragg's vision of the work of his office, as well as a seven page "Policy & Procedure Memorandum." These documents, both available here, are fascinating reads and here are just a few notable excerpt from these documents (with footnotes, numbering and some context left out):

I have dedicated my career to the inextricably linked goals of safety and fairness. This memo sets out charging, bail, plea, and sentencing policies that will advance both goals. Data, and my personal experiences, show that reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer....

Invest more in diversion and alternatives to incarceration: Well-designed initiatives that support and stabilize people – particularly individuals in crisis and youth – can conserve resources, reduce re-offending, and diminish the collateral harms of criminal prosecution....

Focus on Accountability, Not Sentence Length: Research is clear that, after a certain length, longer sentences do not deter crime or result in greater community safety.  Further, because survivors and victims of crime often want more than the binary choice between incarceration and no incarceration, we will expand our use of restorative justice programming....

The Office will not seek a carceral sentence other than for homicide or other cases involving the death of a victim, a class B violent felony in which a deadly weapon causes serious physical injury, domestic violence felonies, sex offenses in Article 130 of the Penal Law, public corruption, rackets, or major economic crimes, including any attempt to commit any such offense under Article 110 of the Penal Law, unless required by law.  For any charge of attempt to cause serious physical injury with a dangerous instrument, ADAs must obtain the approval of an ECAB supervisor to seek a carceral sentence....

ADAs shall presumptively indict both top counts and lesser included counts when presenting cases to the grand jury, permitting a wider range of statutorily permissible plea bargaining options. This presumption can be overcome with supervisory approval....

For any case in which a person violates the terms of a non-carceral sentence or pre-plea programming mandate, the Office will seek a carceral “alternative” only as a matter of last resort. The Office will take into account that research shows that relapses are a predictable part of the road to recovery for those struggling with substance abuse, and the Office will reserve carceral recommendations for repeated violations of the terms of a mandate.

January 4, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, January 03, 2022

Senator Cotton leans into political foolishness rather than serious policy issues in latest "jailbreak" commentary

Senator Tom Cotton is always eager to provide a "tough-and-tougher" perspective on criminal justice issues, and he has long responded to advocacy against mass incarceration by claiming that the US actually has an "under-incarceration problem."  Some time ago, I was described at least some of his takes on criminal justice issues as at least somewhat thoughtful, but more recently it seems Senator Cotton has been content to make op-ed claims which are quite suspect and have been described as "horrifically dishonest" and are disconnected from political and social reality.  His latest commentary, published here today at Fox News, sets the bar especially low to start 2022 because he turns serious criminal justice policy issues into political posturing.  Here are some key parts of this piece (with a few phrases highlighted for follow-up commentary): 

In 2020, our nation’s state and federal prison populations plummeted 15% to the lowest levels since 1992 — at the same time, murders skyrocketed nearly 30% to the highest level since 1998.  By the middle of last year, local jail populations similarly shrank by an astonishing 25%.  In raw numbers, state and federal authorities reduced their prison populations by 214,000 in 2020 and local authorities reduced their jail populations by 185,000 compared to 2019.  This is the worst jailbreak in American history and was committed in broad daylight.  Our nation has paid the price.

So-called "coronavirus protocols" caused most of these reductions.  Last year, the federal government sent thousands of inmates home in response to the pandemic.  Rikers Island in New York City released 1,500 criminals, and Chicago’s largest prison released a quarter of its inmates.

Democrat-run states also released convicted murderers and an untold number of violent felons in the name of "public health."  In Virginia, an accused rapist murdered his accuser.  In Florida, a documented gang member murdered a 28-year-old.  In my home state of Arkansas, a career criminal murdered a police officer.  What did these murderers have in common?  They had all been released early from jail due to concerns about coronavirus....

The rash of early releases is not the entire story.  The drop in incarceration in 2020 was also fueled by a shocking 40% nationwide decline in the admission of newly sentenced criminals — which indicates a massive decrease in prosecutions.  In New York, there was an even starker 60% drop in admission of newly sentenced criminals.  In California, there was a 66% drop, the biggest decline of any state.  This concentrated drop in prosecutions is virtually unexplainable, except by the proliferation of progressive "Soros prosecutors" and a shrinking willingness to hold the guilty accountable.

There were certainly plenty of crimes to prosecute last year when over 100,000 Americans died from homicide and drug overdoses and the nation was wracked with the worst rioting in a generation. Initial data also shows that California experienced a 31% increase in murders, while New York experienced a 142% increase in gang killings and a 42% increase in murders overall.... This under-incarceration crisis must end.

All serious people should be taking seriously how the COVID pandemic has been impacting US crime rates, criminal justice case processing, and prison and jail populations. But talking about these issues in terms of "Democrat-run states" and "the proliferation of progressive Soros prosecutors" is so foolish simply in light of the data. 

For starters, it is notable and amusing that, right after complaining about releases in "Democrat-run states," Senator Cotton then gives examples of crimes in GOP-run states of Arkansas and Florida.  More systematically, the uptick in murders in 2020 was a nationwide phenomenon as this Pew report highlights, and many GOP states had the highest uptick in murder rates: "At least eight states saw their murder rates rise by 40% or more last year, with the largest percentage increases in Montana (+84%), South Dakota (+81%), Delaware (+62%) and Kentucky (+61%), according to the CDC."  (Indeed, this US News piece reveals that the top seven states in terms of homicide rates in 2020 were all "red" states.)

Turning toward prison populations and drops in prosecutions, this dynamic is again not an issue involving only "blue" states and "progressive Soros prosecutors."  Senator Cotton appears to be cherry picking some numbers from this recent BJS report titled "Prisoners in 2020 – Statistical Tables."  But Figure 3 of that report shows that the top four jurisdictions with biggest 2020 reductions in prison population were, in order, California, the federal system, Texas and Florida.  In 2020, three of those four jurisdictions were under GOP control.  Similarly, though I do not recall Prez Trump appointing any "progressive Soros prosecutors," the data show that the federal system saw a 40% decline in prison admissions; "red" states ranging from Florida to Idaho to Indiana to Kentucky to Kansas to South Carolina all saw above-national-average declines in the admission of sentenced prisoners.

Political foolishness aside, if Senator Cotton really wants to get serious about pandemic era crime and punishment issues, why is he not seriously trying to help develop more and deeper data about all these important and complicated trends and others.  Exactly what types of offenders have been released during pandemic?  What types of cases were prosecuted less in 2020?  Have these trends continued through 2021?  We have decent (but not great) homicide data from local police departments, but we need much better and richer data.  Notably, in 2022, Senator Cotton still references "Initial data" from 2020 on homicides.  Is this really the best we can do at the start of 2022?  And how about better data on other crimes? 

Moreover, despite two more big COVID waves in 2021, we have very little data in real-time about the national prison population (this VERA accounting as of March 2021 is the last data I have seen).  And reports suggest declines in prison populations have slowed or stopped, while jail populations have risen through 2021.  Notably, we do have real time data from the federal BOP revealing that there are now "157,654 Total Federal Inmates," which is over 6000 more federal prisoners compared to the first full day of the Biden Administration when BOP reported  151,646.  Since the federal prison population went down nearly 38,000 persons(!) under Prez Trump, and now has gone up over 6,000 persons during the first year of the Biden Administration, maybe Senator Cotton ought to consider if he should target a very different ""jailbreak" bogey-man than "progressive Soros prosecutors" is he really thinks we have an "under-incarceration crisis."  Sigh.

January 3, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Methods of Calculating the Marginal Cost of Incarceration: A Scoping Review"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Stuart John Wilson & Jocelyne Lemoine published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review. Here is its abstract:

Criminal justice reforms and corrections cost forecasts require appropriate estimates of the marginal costs of incarceration to adequately assess cost savings and projections. Average costs are simple to calculate while marginal cost calculations require much more detailed data and advanced methods.  We undertook a scoping review to identify, report, and summarize the existing academic and gray literature covering the different estimation methods of calculating the marginal costs of incarceration, following the Arksey and O’Malley framework.  Eighteen publications met criteria for inclusion in this review, with only one from the peer-reviewed literature.  The three main approaches in the literature and their use are reviewed and illustrated.  We conclude that there is a lack of, and need for, peer-reviewed literature on methods for calculating the marginal cost of incarceration, and marginal cost estimates of incarceration, to assist program evaluation, policy, and cost forecasting in the field of corrections.

December 28, 2021 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 23, 2021

BOP chief from Trump Administration says "prisons are in crisis, riddled with deep and systemic ills that won’t be cured by simply replacing the BOP chief"

Hugh Hurwitz, who served as Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons from May 2018 to August 2019, has this notable new Hill commentary headlined "To fix our prison system, we need far more than a change in leadership."  It is worth reading in full, and here are some extended excerpts:

U.S. prisons are in crisis, riddled with deep and systemic ills that won’t be cured by simply replacing the BOP chief.  In fact, we’ve already tried that. Carvajal, appointed last year, became the sixth director or acting director in just five years.

The reality is that one person can only do so much. I should know. I was one of those six.

The news that sparked Durbin’s ire was an Associated Press report revealing that numerous federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019.  Sadly, corruption and other malfeasance within prison systems are not uncommon.  But as Durbin rightly noted, “it’s clear that there is much going wrong in our federal prisons, and we urgently need to fix it.”...

How do we move forward?  We must rethink our overall approach to incarceration to ensure that only the right people — those who need to be separated from society or require intensive reentry programming — are confined for the appropriate amount of time.

Common-sense sentencing reforms are a good place to start.  These include mandating a greater reliance on drug courts, community service and other alternatives to prison, such as halfway houses. It also means eliminating mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes, which, among other problems, result in long sentences that drive prison populations up.

On the back end of the system, we need more intensive reentry programs to ensure that the more than 650,000 people leaving prison annually find the jobs, housing and healthcare they need to lead stable lives — and remain crime-free. Congress started this effort with bipartisan passage of the First Step Act of 2018 (co-sponsored by Durbin), but BOP needs sufficient resources to fully implement this law.

We also must invest in the recruitment, retention and training of correctional officers, while paying them on par with what other law enforcement officers earn. While the conduct spotlighted in recent news reports was reprehensible, it does not reflect the majority of BOP officers who put their lives on the line every day, and suffer disproportionately high rates of PTSD and suicide. They deserve to lead healthy lives, and their mental health has a direct impact on the orderly functioning of our prisons. It must be our concern.

Beyond such measures, Congress must tackle what should be the easiest, but may be the most divisive, piece of the debate: closing some of America’s oldest and costliest federal prisons.  Shuttering these aging lock-ups, some of which are more than a century old, would allow the BOP to reallocate staff and resources to the remaining facilities, improving safety and security while strengthening programs and services.

Closing prisons may be a hard sell to some, particularly to those in Congress.  But it has been done recently, at least at the state level. South Carolina, for example, has closed six correctional centers in the past decade, as its prison population declined following bipartisan passage of sentencing and corrections reforms in 2010.

One step the Attorney General and Congress should quickly consider is a recommendation from the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Federal Priorities, which called for creation of an independent oversight board for BOP.  This would bring outside expertise to bear on the agency’s multiple challenges while retaining the career leadership that historically has served the agency well.  The board would also provide political cover for harder choices that agency leaders and elected officials are sometimes reluctant or unable to make.

While the recent news about the BOP is disturbing, I hope it serves as a reminder of the need to rebuild our criminal justice system so that it is smaller, less punitive, more humane and safer for all.  With political will, independent oversight and an unwavering commitment, we can make holistic change to a system long in need of it.

December 23, 2021 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A deep dive into extreme sentences in the Pelican State

61bbccc672eb3.imageThe Marshall Project with the Times-Picayune and The Advocate has a new series of pieces exploring extreme sentences in Louisiana.  Here are headlines, links and a few passages:

"Her Baby Died After Hurricane Katrina. Was It a Crime?: An expansive definition of murder in Louisiana leaves many behind bars forever."

Louisiana sentences people to life without parole at one of the highest rates in the nation, data shows. Nearly 4,200 men and women are serving lifetime sentences in the state, for crimes that range from homicide and rape to rarer cases of repeat purse snatchings and child neglect, an investigation by The Marshall Project and The Times-Picayune | The Advocate found.

Second-degree murder charges, like the ones Woods and Scott were found guilty of, are a big driver of life-without-parole sentences. The state has long had the highest homicide rate in the nation. But Louisiana law contains an unusually sweeping definition of second-degree murder that includes even some accidental deaths, legal experts say. And despite the wide variations in circumstances that can produce a second-degree murder conviction — from a premeditated ambush to a getaway car accident — the sentence is the same: mandatory life without parole. Judges have almost no discretion.

"‘The Only Way We Get Out of There Is in a Pine Box’: Elderly, ailing and expensive, lifetime prisoners cost Louisiana taxpayers millions a year."

Total medical spending for state corrections eclipsed $100 million last year. That’s an increase of about 25% from 2015, according to state budget figures....

Now, one in six people incarcerated in Louisiana has been sentenced to die in state custody. Nearly 1,200 lifers are over 60. Those geriatric lifers make up nearly 5% of the state prison population.

"A life sentence for $20 of weed? Louisiana stands out for its unequal use of repeat offender laws."

The crime that landed Kevin O’Brien Allen a spot among the more than 4,100 Louisianans now serving life-without-parole sentences wasn’t a bloody one: He sold $20 in marijuana to a childhood friend....

Agents booked Allen on two counts of marijuana distribution, and prosecutors in District Attorney Schuyler Marvin’s office made him an offer: a 5-year sentence if he pleaded guilty. Allen, a father of two with a steady job but a handful of drug convictions, balked....

Louisiana law affords prosecutors wide discretion to increase a repeat offender’s sentence, up to life, and Marvin’s office drew on Allen’s past convictions: possession with intent to distribute marijuana in 2004, marijuana possession in 2007 and 2011, and methamphetamine possession in 2013.

Once invoked by a prosecutor, the habitual-offender law gives little leeway to judges. They can sentence a defendant to less time if they find the minimum is so far out of line that it defies “acceptable goals of punishment” or serves as “nothing more than the purposeful imposition of pain and suffering.” But courts have described those scenarios as “exceedingly rare.”...

Allen [received a life sentence and] now works in the prison kitchen, making juice for pennies a day, serving a sentence that ends when he dies. He’s among nearly 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana prisons based on their status as habitual offenders, an analysis of recent state corrections data show. In 40% of those cases, the incarcerated person is locked up for life on a non-violent crime....

Corrections data show wide variances in how district attorneys around the state have used the habitual offender law. Nearly two-thirds of habitual lifers in the state were sentenced in one of four large parishes: Caddo, Orleans, St. Tammany or Jefferson, according to the data. The practice is somewhat less common in East Baton Rouge Parish, the state’s most populous.

Overall, Louisiana prosecutors have mostly aimed the law at Black defendants, like Allen. Black people make up 31% of Louisiana’s population, but 66% of its state prisoners; 73% of those serving life sentences; and 83% of those serving life as habitual offenders, corrections and census data show.

December 21, 2021 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)