Monday, March 30, 2015

Risk Assessments and 'Moneyballing' the Criminal Justice System

Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg of  write about 'Moneyballing the Criminal Justice System." Particularly the role of risk-assessment software programs, already used in at least 20 states. These tools, many of them proprietary and not open to public scrutiny, use statistical analysis of complex sources of data to predict the future crime risk of individuals.
The idea is that dangerous people stay in prison and low-risk non-violent offenders stay out or get out of prison quickly.  All-in-all the state saves money and the streets are safer.  That's the theory but what are the real costs?
These tools are not without criticism. Attorney General Eric Holder has warned that use of predictive data in sentencing is likely to adversely affect communities of color. University of Michigan legal scholar Sonja Starr explains that risk scores are based primarily or wholly on an individual's prior characteristics, including criminal history - some instruments include not only convictions, but arrests and failure to appear in court. Other allegedly criminogenic factors "unrelated to conduct" often include homelessness, "unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members' criminal history." Starr asserts that because poor people and people of color bear the brunt of mass incarceration, "[p]unishment profiling will exacerbate these disparities."
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Will Georgia Judge give death penalty to grandmother who ran 9-year-old to death?

In Georgia a jury found Joyce Hardin Garrard guilty of murder in the first degree in the death of her granddaughter, Savannah Hardin, by literally running the 9-year-old to death in the backyard in 2012, reported the Christian Science Monitor.
But while the same jury declined to send Ms. Garrard to death row, county judge Billy Ogletree will have a unique option to reverse that decision and instead sentence the grandmother who punished too hard to herself receive capital punishment.
Alabama is one of three states – the others are Delaware and Florida – that allow so-called judicial override of jury sentences in order to impose the death penalty. The option is rarely used in Florida and Delaware has abolished the death penalty, making Alabama, where judges are elected, the only state in the union to regularly utilize the option.
Savannah collapsed and later died in her grandmother’s Etowah County yard after being forced to run for hours as a punishment for lying about taking some candy and eating it. On its face, it was a difficult murder case to prove, since prosecutors had to convince the jury that Ms. Garrard was so angry at Savannah that she intended to kill the girl with her barked demands for the girl to keep moving even as the sun began to set. 
But the jury agreed with the prosecution’s logic, that by the time the punishment was into its third hour, and given wounds on Savannah’s arms from having to carry sticks and pieces of firewood, Garrard was indeed in a murderous frame of mind as she attempted to break her granddaughter of perceived obstinacy.
Five out of 12 jurors voted for the death penalty, while seven voted for life in prison without parole. Given the peculiar nature of the case, prosecutors had not recommended either sentence for jurors to mull.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, March 28, 2015

GateHouse: A clearer picture of police shootings begins to emerge

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
March 27, 2015

A Pennsylvania police officer has been charged with murder in the death of a man who sped away after the officer noticed he had an expired inspection sticker on his vehicle. When the officer caught up with the man he attempted to flee on foot.
The officer used a stun gun knocking the suspect to the ground. She then shot him twice as he lay face down. The incident was recorded by a camera activated on the officer’s stun gun.
The arrest of a police officer as a result of a shooting in the line of duty is extremely rare. Families in Ferguson, Cleveland and communities too numerous to mention can attest to that phenomenon.
A little way down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Philadelphia city officials are dealing with a pervasive problem of police-related shootings. Philadelphia police shot 394 people between 2007 and 2013. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, police data indicates that 540 officers fired their guns in 364 incidents. Sixty-eight officers were involved in more than one shooting — of those, 12 shot three people each, while another three shot four people each.
If those statistics aren’t alarming enough, consider that police-involved shootings are largely under reported. In February, FBI Director James Comey admitted during a speech at Georgetown University that, “It’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police in this country — last week, last year, the last decade.”
Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and noted author, compiled his own statistics for police-related shootings in 2011. Why no national database of police-involved shooting? Fisher contends, “The answer is simple: they don’t want us to know. Why? Because police shoot a lot more people than we think.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) confirmed that the government’s own data on police involved deaths have been off for more than a decade — by more than 100 percent.
The report estimates that there were “an average of 928 law enforcement homicides per year” from 2003 through 2011 — which means, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that previous yearly tallies by the BJS and the FBI included fewer than half of all such deaths.
More alarming is that a significant number of victims of police-reported shootings are mentally ill. A joint report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs Association — Justifiable Homicides by Law Enforcement: What is the Role of Mental Illness? — noted that “Although no national data is collected, multiple informal studies and accounts support the conclusion that “at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”
The public has no hard data on the number of police-involved shootings, and as many as one in two of those killings may have been prevented by adequate police training and education.
Just this week the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that has the potential to insure that much needed training and education is mandated. The case, Sheehan v. San Francisco, could settle the extent to which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves as a check on police officers’ interactions with people with mental illnesses.
Teresa Sheehan was mentally ill, in her 50s, overweight, and in her own home wielding a knife when she was shot five times by San Francisco Police.
The ADA requires local governments to provide “reasonable accommodations” to individuals with disabilities, and according to Slate, courts have interpreted that guarantee to include arrests — that is, police should take into account a person’s disabilities when taking them into custody.
The ADA has done wonders to protect men and women in the workplace and disabled consumers. Can this be the catalyst to help cut down on police-involved shootings?

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

Visit the Column

Friday, March 27, 2015

California eases up on sex offender residency restrictions

California officials announced that the state would stop enforcing a key provision of a voter ­approved law that prohibits all registered sex offenders from living near schools, reported the Los Angeles Times. 
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it would no longer impose the blanket restrictions outlined in Jessica's Law that forbids all sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, regardless of whether their crimes involved children. 
High ­risk sex offenders and those whose crimes involved children under 14 will still be prohibited from living within a half ­mile of a school, the CDCR emphasized. Otherwise, officials will assess each parolee based on factors relating to their individual cases, the agency said. The shift comes nine years after California voters approved the controversial law, which has made it difficult for some sex offenders to find places to live. 
The California Supreme Court on March 2 unanimously ruled that Jessica's Law violated the constitutional rights of parolees living in San Diego County who had argued that the limitations made it impossible for them to obtain housing. As a result, advocates said, some parolees were living in places like riverbeds and alleys. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Justice lab: The Roaring '90s

This is the tenth and final topic in a series from Dana Goldstein of the Justice Lab at The Marshall Project, Top 10 (Not Entirely Crazy) Theories Explaining the Great Crime Decline:

The roaring ’90s (and Obama-mania)

Until recently, there was little doubt that the strong economy of the 1990s and 2000s played a major role. Unemployment was low, so young men were less likely to turn to the drug trade or other criminal activity for work. Consumers felt confident in their spending power, so they did not seek out cheap, stolen goods on the black market, which decreased the demand for property crime. And though this may be difficult to remember today, Americans generally felt optimistic about their public institutions during the Clinton years.
Then came the Great Recession of 2008, from which we are still recovering. Unemployment spiked, consumer confidence plummeted, trust in political elites sank to record lows ... yet crime did not increase.
Does this mean there is no connection between the economy, trust in public institutions, and crime? Maybe not. Criminologists went back to the drawing board to consider what they might have overlooked in their previous research. In turned out that one economic indicator—high inflation—has been correlated throughout history with high crime, Rosenfeld says. Yet inflation remained low throughout the recent recession. Does this mean crime will spike when and if inflation rises? Only time will tell. Zimring, however, is skeptical about the inflation explanation, noting that in Europe, changes in inflation have not been associated with changes in the crime rate. “There’s no consistent there there,” he says.
Rosenfeld also wonders if African-American optimism after Barack Obama’s presidential election as president may have helped keep crime rates down. “African-Americans, from 2008 to 2009, were more confident than whites were in the economy, even though on an objective level, they suffered more, economically. There is little question their spirits were buoyed by the Obama phenomenon. Can we link that in some rigorous fashion to the crime drop? Not really. But I think it’s an intriguing hypothesis.”
The Marshall Project

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Citizens Voice: Merge corrections agency, parole board

Editorial, March 23, 2015
A lingering mystery of last year’s gubernatorial campaign is why former [Pennsylvania] Gov. Tom Corbett did not emphasize one of the most successful aspects of his administration — corrections reform.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who defeated Corbett, recognized the improvement. He kept on Corbett’s innovative and thoughtful corrections secretary, John Wetzel, to maintain the momentum towards a lower-cost system that better serves the needs of inmates and the society.
Last week Wetzel and John R. Tuttle, acting chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, testified at a budget hearing about needed improvements. The Legislature would be wise to listen. The state had projected its prison population to increase to more than 56,000 in 2014. Instead, Wetzel testified, it dropped by 908 inmates to 50,6756, the lowest population since June 2009, the largest one-year decrease since 1971 and only the fourth annual decrease in 40 years.
At the same time, critically, the state’s crime rate continued to decline, demonstrating that reduced incarceration was not accompanied by increased crime.
Further illustrating that was a decrease in recidivism, which results from a wide array of initiatives ranging from the simple to the complex. For example, Wetzel said the system now ensures that inmates leaving prison have state-issued identification cards to help them gain access to the services they need on the outside to help keep them out of trouble. And, he said, his department and the parole board have worked together to better prepare inmates about to leave prison, and with courts and mental health agencies to help steer exiting inmates to the services they need.
Wetzel and Tuttle asked the Legislature last week to take a major step to accelerate corrections systems improvements. They want to merge the two agencies. Doing so, they said, would provide offenders with just one set of rules rather than two as they leave prison, eliminate confusion over scheduling and streamline the parole process, consolidate some administrative functions to reduce costs and improve services for offenders to help reduce recidivism.
The Legislature has a good record in making some of the state’s mandatory sentencing laws less draconian to help reduce the prison population and its attendant costs. Members should continue that momentum by embracing Wetzel’s and Tuttle’s proposal.

New Mexico seeks to end forfeiture without conviction

The New Mexico legislature passed a bill  that will end civil asset forfeiture in the state, according to Jurist. The bill, HB 560, was passed in the senate by a vote of 37-0. Civil asset forfeiture is a police practice in which authorities can take an individual's property without charging that person for a crime.
The bill abolishes this practice, and now before police may seize an individual's property they must convict that person of a crime and prove that the property being seized was used in the commission of that crime. Additionally, the bill directs any monetary gains from the seizure of property to the state's general fund instead of the police budget. This is thought to remove any incentive police may have to seek out opportunities to seize property. The bill will now move to Republican Governor Susana Martinez's  for a final signature.
Civil asset forfeiture  has been a contentious issue among various states in recent years. Earlier this month Texas state representative David Simpson filed a bill  to repeal the state's civil asset forfeiture laws. "No one should forfeit their property without being convicted of a crime," he stated." Our current civil forfeiture provisions, though a well intended tool for law enforcement, have eroded the constitutional rights of individuals. It is time we end the practice." Last month Wyoming Governor Matt Mead vetoed the state's civil asset forfeiture reform bill, which had gained considerable support before the governor shot it down. The governor cited the importance of fighting illicit drug activity and profiting from the forfeiture of property seized in such situations. "Crime should not pay, especially drug crime," a letter from Mead vetoing the bill reads. "We do not have the abuses found in other in other states."
Visit Jurist