Friday, May 27, 2016

46 states enacted some form of sentencing reform since 2014

In 2014 and 2015, 46 states enacted at least 201 bills, executive orders, and ballot initiatives to reform at least one aspect of their sentencing and corrections systems, reported the Vera Institute.
In conducting this review of state criminal justice reforms, Vera found that most of the policy changes focused on three areas: creating or expanding opportunities to divert people away from the criminal justice system; reducing prison populations by enacting sentencing reform, expanding opportunities for early release from prison, and reducing the number of people admitted to prison for violating the terms of their community supervision; and supporting reentry into the community from prison.
By providing concise summaries of representative reforms in each of these areas, this report serves as a practical guide for other state and federal policymakers looking to affect similar changes in criminal justice policy.
To read full report CLICK HERE

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is it time to end the war on drugs?

“In New York City,” NYC’s police commissioner, William Bratton said during a radio interview, “most of the violence we see around drug trafficking is involving marijuana.”
That isn’t particularly surprising, wrote Bonnie Kristian at Just like alcohol prohibition caused violent crime to increase by criminalizing a high-demand industry, so the drug war does the same—and marijuana is particularly popular. More than four in 10 Americans say they’ve tried pot at some point in their lives.
Bratton is right: the drug trade is a huge contributor to our violent crime rates. The reason is obvious: when you have a business as lucrative as the drug trade--by one estimate, heroin consumption in Baltimore alone generates some $950,000 in spending every single day--dealers will enter the industry and use violence to defend their sales.
All this adds up to a strong argument for ending the drug war—not because we want people doing heroin or think it’s totally fine to smoke pot all day, but because these negative consequences far outweigh any benefits of prohibition. If the drug trade isn’t illegal, it will become much less profitable and much less dangerous.
Unfortunately, that’s not where Bratton was going with his argument. After mentioning the effect of marijuana trafficking on violence in New York, he added, “I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana.”
The real head-scratcher is why Bratton doesn’t understand that legalizing pot would significantly decrease the violence he’s observing. “There may be costs to legalizing marijuana. Some people think that they outweigh the benefits,” Conor Friedersdorf notes at The Atlantic. “But there’s no question that legalizing marijuana would shift sale of the drug from criminals who sometimes engage in violence to businesses that almost never would.”
In fact, as Friedersdorf adds, “Legalization is the only effective way to eradicate such violence.”
It’s hard to believe—and frustrating, to boot—that the police chief of America’s largest city doesn’t understand that drug violence is an argument for ending prohibition, not against it.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Report: Aging prisoners rise dramatically in last two decades

The number of prisoners over the age of 55 serving more than one year in state prisons increased from 26,300 to 131,500 in the last two decades, according to a study released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reported The Crime Report.
The study, entitled “Aging of the State Prison Population, 1993-2013,”, written by BJS statistician E. Ann Carson and former BJS Director William J. Sabol, identified two principal contributing factors: Between 1993 and 2013, more older prisoners were serving longer sentences for violent offenses, and more older people were sent to prison.
The proportion of older prisoners in state correctional facilities serving time for violent offenses, such as murder and sexual assault was also higher than prisoners in younger age groups.  For instance, in 2013, some 48 percent of those 55 or older were serving sentences for murder, nonnegligent manslaughter or sexual assault, compared to nearly a third (31 percent) of prisoners ages 45 to 54 --- and more than a quarter (27 percent) of those ages 35 to 44.
Other findings include:
Prison admissions for people 55 and older increased by 82 percent between 1993 and 2013.
40 percent of state prisoners aged 55 or older on December 31, 2013, had been imprisoned for at least 10 years, up from nine percent in 1993.
The mean sentence length for prisoners older than 55 was 82 months in 2014, higher than that of 18- to 39-year-old prisoners (69 months) and that of 40- to 54-year-old prisoners (71 months).

Read the full report here

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SCOTUS: Death Row inmate gets new trial due to jury selection bias

The U.S. Supreme Court  ruled in favor of a black Georgia death row inmate convicted in 1987 of murdering an elderly white woman, finding that prosecutors unlawfully excluded black potential jurors in selecting an all-white jury, reported Reuters.
In a 7-1 ruling, the court handed a victory to inmate Timothy Foster, 48, who asserted prosecutorial misconduct after he was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1986 murder of Queen White, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher.
The justices threw out Foster's conviction after decades on death row. He could still potentially face a retrial.
During jury selection, all four black members of the pool of potential jurors were removed by prosecutors, who gave reasons not related to race for their decision to exclude them. Only white jurors were selected for the panel that ended up convicting Foster and sentencing him to death.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court's majority, wrote that prosecution notes introduced into evidence "plainly belie the state's claim that it exercised its strikes (removing a potential juror) in a 'color blind' manner."
At the time of the trial, Foster's legal arguments over jury selection failed. It was only in 2006 that his lawyers obtained access to the prosecution's jury selection notes, which showed that the race of the black potential jurors was highlighted, indicating "an explicit reliance on race," according to Foster's attorneys.
The notes showed that the prosecution marked the names of the black prospective jurors with a "B," highlighted them in green and circled the word "black" next to the race question on juror questionnaires.
The Supreme Court reached the conclusion that the state's prosecutors "were motivated in substantial part by race" when two of the potential jurors were excluded, Roberts wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative and the only black member of the court, was the sole dissenter.
A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it unlawful to take race into account when excluding potential jurors from a trial.
Prosecutors say Foster, 18 at the time of the crime, broke into White's home in the middle of the night, broke her jaw and sexually molested the elderly woman before strangling her and stealing items from her house.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, May 23, 2016

Federal sentencing reform could reduce costs by $722 million

A criminal justice bill awaiting a vote by the U.S. Senate would reduce federal prison costs by $722 million over the next 10 years by releasing thousands of federal prisoners early, according to Reuters.
Federal benefits received by the newly released prisoners would increase direct spending by $251 million and reduce revenues by $8 million over the same period, according to the estimate by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office.
The new savings estimate buoyed supporters of the bipartisan measure to lower mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent federal drug offenders, which is central to President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the country's federal criminal justice system and reduce prison overcrowding.
"We have an obligation to change the way we think about incarceration, and today’s CBO report shows that we have a fiscal obligation as well," said the bill's co-authors, U.S. senators Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, in a statement.
The bill was revised last month to exclude prisoners convicted of violent crimes in an effort to garner more support among conservatives.
Still, its prospects for moving to a full Senate vote remain unclear. Some key Republican senators are reluctant to support the bill until it includes changes to "mens rea" laws that govern criminal intent.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Senator Cotton: We have an 'under-incarceration problem'

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican, recently slammed his colleagues' efforts to pass sweeping criminal justice reforms, saying the United States is actually suffering from an "under-incarceration problem," reported Politico.
Cotton, who has been an outspoken critic of the bill in Congress that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, smacked down what he called "baseless" arguments that there are too many offenders locked up for relatively small crimes, that incarceration is too costly, or that "we should show more empathy toward those caught up in the criminal-justice system."
"Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed," Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. "Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem."
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 21, 2016

GateHouse: Rhetoric is not the solution to surge in violence

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 20, 2016
The number of homicides increased in the first three months of 2016 in more than two dozen major cities across the country and that trend seems to be continuing into the first half of the year.
The data showed particularly significant increases in homicides in six cities —Chicago, Dallas, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Memphis— according to The New York Times.
FBI Director James B. Comey said “Something is happening . . . I don’t know what the answer is, but holy cow, do we have a problem.”
Here is what Comey thinks the problem is a link between rising crime and less aggressive policing — he called it the “viral video effect.” According to Comey, the viral video effect is the result of a string of aggressive, sometimes lethal, police videos that went viral on the internet and led some officers to become reluctant to confront suspects.
In reality, the viral video effect is a substitute for a more controversial label coined last year, the “Ferguson Effect.” It took its name from the Missouri city where protests erupted after a white police officer fatally shot a black 18-year-old in 2014.
Not everyone agrees with Comey.
“This administration makes policy decisions that are rooted in evidence, that are rooted in science,” Josh Earnest, The White House press secretary, said according to The Washington Post. “We can’t make broad, sweeping policy decisions or draw policy conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. That’s irresponsible and ultimately counterproductive.”
Earnest said it was a problem that some cities “are experiencing a troubling surge in violent crime . . . But there’s not evidence at this point to link that surge in violent crime to the so-called viral video effect, or the Ferguson effect. There’s just no evidence to substantiate that.”
Ironically, academics, practitioners and politicians have been grappling with why violent crime rates had dropped so precipitously since the high-water mark in the mid-1990s. Since 1993, the survey indicates the rate of violent crime had declined from 79.8 victimizations per 100,000 to 23.2 per 100,000.
Why had violent crime rates fallen so dramatically? Criminologists continue to debate the reasons for the decline. Theories abound from a decline in the demand for crack cocaine, technological advancements, policing strategies, incarceration rates, even abortion and the decline of lead in the air.
Now, those same people are struggling to understand the sharp increases in violent crime in many major cities.
In cities where more killings are occurring, “those homicides are not randomly distributed around the city,” said Richard Berk, a professor of statistics and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Berk established a forecasting tool for the Philadelphia Adult Department of Probation and Parole that sought to predict those probationers who were most likely to commit murder and therefore were in need of more intensive supervision.
“Crime, like politics, is local,” Berk told The Washington Post. “This stuff all occurs in neighborhoods on much more local levels. … It’s not about a city as a whole, it’s about neighborhoods.”
So why can’t scholars like Berk come together and collaboratively find the reason, or reasons, for rising urban violence and search for an evidence-based solution. Director Comey’s foray into anecdotal theories is a part of a larger problem.
Unsubstantiated rhetoric leads to fear. America’s level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years, according to a Gallup Poll. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence.
The criminal justice system is plagued by politics and political posturing. Politicians thrive on fear. If there is a concern with violent crime nationwide, there will be 50 different solutions proposed by 50 different state legislatures.
Imagine if the medical profession solved problems in the same manner. Policymakers need to move away from the rhetoric and adopt science-based solutions to crime and violence.
To visit the column CLICK HERE