Thursday, May 31, 2012

Florida governor nixes popular prison diversion law

According to The Crime Report, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's veto of a bill to divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison to rehab programs was "soft on sense," says Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. The idea is to take the most promising inmates — nonviolent offenders with good behavior, and who prison officials believe are ready for reform — and move them out of prison and into rehab. The goal is to get inmates whose primary problem is addiction, off drugs. That way we don't arrest and imprison them again and again.

The idea was so popular it got overwhelming legislative support, including a rare unanimous Senate vote, according to The Crime Report. Business groups and government watchdogs praised the move. Scott's veto baffled fellow Republicans, Maxwell said, because his veto message largely ignored the overall goal of the bill — reducing crime and saving taxpayers money. Maxwell says Scott should approve the measure if the legislature passes it again.

To read more:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Part VII: The Crime Report examines drug policy

This is the seventh in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Drug Policy--Peter Reuter, University of Maryland.

The U.S. has the western world's worst drug problem, even though the problem has declined overall in the last decade, Reuter said.

Too many addicts are unable to get treatment, and the treatment that they do get is not of good quality. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to incarcerate many drug users. The presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, all of which have been severely harmed by drug related violence fueled by the American drug market, have said it is worth considering the legalization of drugs in their countries.

There are many good arguments for legalization in the U.S., but is not clear whether legalizing drugs would benefit the nation overall; in any case, a 2010 Gallup poll 2010 found fewer than 10 percent of respondents favoring legalization of cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, or methamphetamine.

The concept that drug addiction is a brain disease is gaining support, and it is a credible basis for sending criminally active addicts to treatment rather than the criminal justice system.

Attitudes toward marijuana have changed substantially in the last four decades as tracked by Gallup. The percentage of the public favoring legalization of the drug rose sharply from 1995 (25 percent) to 2012 (50 percent). This may reflect the fact that a number of states allowed medical use of marijuana. In 2010 a poorly formulated California initiative got 46.5 percent of the vote.

This year, better-constructed initiatives are going to voters in Colorado and Washington.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mentally ill inmates languish in CA prisons

Inmates with serious mental illnesses deemed incompetent to stand trial are languishing in California jail cells for months as they wait for state hospital beds to open up, according to Jocelyn Wiener of the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting writing in The Sacramento Bee.

State and county budget cuts to mental health programs are combining with prison realignment and a shrinking number of state hospital beds to exacerbate the problem, they say.

In many counties, seriously mentally ill inmates routinely wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed opens up, said Randall Hagar, director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association. He calls the situation, which he says has gotten worse in recent years, "tragic."

Weiner wrote that in recent years, counties around California have been severely hit by budget cuts to mental health services. From 2009 to 2012, California has reduced mental health funding by $765 million, more than a fifth of its mental health budget, according to a report by the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, which advocates for services and treatment. As funds and services have disappeared, the number of people with mental illness landing behind bars has surged.

State prison inmates with mental illnesses increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2012, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Dr. Gregory Sokolov, medical director of Sacramento County jail psychiatric services, said the county has also seen a steady increase in inmates with severe mental illnesses, which he attributes in large part to the reduction in mental health services.

He said wait times to get into state hospitals got so bad six years ago that a local Superior Court judge ordered the hospitals to accept Sacramento's mentally ill inmates within seven days of a judge committing them. That improved the local situation for a while, Sokolov said, although lately the transfers have started to slow down again.

Advocates emphasize that state hospitals are not ideal places for the majority of seriously mentally ill patients, many of whom might flourish if they received intensive support services in the community. But few suggest the jails are a better substitute, reported Weiner.

Darrell Steinberg, state Senate president pro tem, said incarceration of the mentally ill was one of the main reasons he authored the Mental Health Services Act, a 2004 ballot measure that levied a 1 percent tax on millionaires to fund innovative programs for this population.

"The criminalization of the mentally ill is Exhibit A for how, as a society, we have not made mental health a priority," he said.

To read more:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Milwaukee's crime drop tainted by misreporting

Milwaukee's crime rate has decreased each of the last four years.  A new investigation by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found that hundreds of beatings, stabbings and child abuse cases were missing from the violent crime count.

More than 500 incidents since 2009 were misreported to the FBI as minor assaults and not included in the city's violent crime rate, the investigation found. That tally is based on a review of cases that resulted in charges - only about one-fifth of all reported crimes.

Yet the misreported cases found in 2011 alone are enough that Milwaukee would have been announcing a 1.1% increase in violent crime in February, instead of a 2.3% decline from the reported 2010 numbers, which also include errors, reported the Journal Sentinel. 

"Misreporting is cheating the public," Michael Maltz, criminology professor at Ohio State University told the Journal Sentinel. He called the findings just "the tip of the iceberg."

"If they are playing fast and loose, they will do it with the cases they don't send to the prosecutor," said Maltz, senior researcher at the university's Criminal Justice Research Center. "If it's this bad at this level, how bad can it be on the cases that don't reach eye level?"

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system is aimed at helping the state and FBI monitor crime and trends. A city's overall crime rate is made up of eight categories - four violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) and four property crimes (burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson).

According to the Journal Sentinel, all other incidents, such as simple assaults, are excluded from the official crime rate. When a crime is misreported as a lesser incident, to the general public it's as if it never happened.

To read more:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Study examines U.S. sentencing practices in global context

A new  report, “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context,” prepared by the University of San Francisco School of Law’s Center for Law and Global Justice, compiles comparative research on sentencing laws around the globe and documents how sentencing laws distinguish the United States from other countries.

Researchers found that the United States is in the minority of countries using several sentencing practices, such as life without parole, consecutive sentences, juvenile life without parole, juvenile transfer to adult courts, and successive prosecution of the same defendant by the state and federal government. Conversely, sentencing practices promulgated under international law and used around the world, such as setting 12 as the minimum age of criminal liability and retroactive application of sentencing laws that benefit offenders, are not systematically applied in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes and “three strikes” laws are used in the U.S. more widely than elsewhere in the world.

The full report is available at:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

SCOTUS restricts application of double jeopardy

Alex Blueford, was accused of killing his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son. Blueford was tried for the death of Matthew McFadden Jr., who died in 2007 from head injuries. Arkansas prosecutors said Blueford intentionally caused the boy’s death, while Blueford maintained that he had accidentally knocked the child to the ground, reported the Washington Post.

 Blueford sat in court and listened as the jury unanimously found that he did not commit capital murder and did not commit first degree murder.  Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court found that he is  not protected by the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause.
The Double Jeopardy Clause is found in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and commands that no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense.

 The Supreme Court opened the door to Blueford being tried again.

Because the judge dismissed the jury when it was unable to reach agreement on lesser charges, Blueford was not officially cleared of any of the charges, the majority said, and thus may be retried.

“The jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, reported the Post.

The decision brought a sharp dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “Blueford’s jury had the option to convict him of capital and first-degree murder, but expressly declined to do so,” Sotomayor wrote. “That ought to be the end of the matter.”

“This case demonstrates that the threat to individual freedom from reprosecutions that favor states and unfairly rescue them from weak cases has not waned with time,” she wrote reported the Post. “Only this court’s vigilance has.”

To read more:

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Justice Reinvestment Initiative considers reform recommendations

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
May 25, 2012

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a bipartisan group, composed of judges, lawmakers, state cabinet members and other state and local leaders. The work group was established in January by Governor Tom Corbett.

Wednesday, the group was presented with key recommendations for improving the state's criminal justice system following a five-month analysis by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

The recommendations include, among others, expanding local resources to reduce recidivism by increasing funds to counties that maximize probation and other diversionary options besides state prison. Diversionary sentences include electronic monitoring, day reporting, intensive supervision and treatment, in addition to imposing more county jail sentences.

Just a couple of weeks ago another bipartisan coalition, with an unlikely point man, made some similar recommendations. George Leader was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1954. He was 36 years old. Now at age 94, Leader and his coalition made some recommendations that run parallel to the work of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

Support for Leader’s agenda comes from a wide and varied collection of interests including the conservative Pennsylvania Family Institute, the generally liberal Prison Society, the ACLU, the County Commissioners Association and others like former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode.

One of Leader’s proposals goes further than the Justice Reinvestment Initiative’s recommendations. Leader’s group suggested evaluating the criminal risk of an offender before the judge imposes sentence.

Punishment, or diversion from it, should be based, in part, on the offender’s risk to the community. The concept is an interesting one, but not without precedent. Virginia currently utilizes a risk assessment for purposes of sentencing.

The higher the assessment score, the less likely the offender will be diverted from prison. In Virginia, all violent offenders and anyone convicted of distributing more than one ounce of a controlled substance are eliminated from consideration for diversion. The remaining offenders are administered an assessment prior to sentencing.

The risk assessment, because of its heavy reliance on age, gender and juvenile criminal records, has the effect of increasing the assessment score for young, male offenders. Older, nonviolent career criminals tend to score lower on the assessment. The result is consistent with research indicating that the most violent segment of the population is 16 to 24 year old males.

The Virginia sentence guidelines are utilized to control prison growth while incapacitating violent and criminally active young offenders. The recidivism rate for those diverted from prison is 12 percent as compared to those sent to prison who recidivate at a rate of 38 percent.

The work of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative is extremely important. There were 7,000 inmates in state prison when Governor Leader left office. Now there are more than 50,000.

It is encouraging to see the wide range of reforms being considered. Leader’s suggestion merits a second look. Risk assessments at the front end of the punishment process are a smart approach to fiscal responsibility, public safety and offender accountability.

Visit Ipso Facto

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Part VI: The Crime Report examines deterrence

This is the sixth in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Deterrence--Daniel Nagin, Carnegie-Mellon University

Nagin said there is substantial evidence that the certainty of punishment substantially deters criminal behavior.

Measures with this effect include increasing the visibility of the police by hiring more officers and/or allocating existing officers in ways that raise the risk of apprehension, such as “hot spots” policing.

They also include the use of certain, moderate punishments in the form of short periods of incarceration to enforce court-ordered fine payments or conformance with court-ordered conditions of probation or parole.
Nagin also believes there is little evidence that increasing the length of already long prison sentences leads to deterrent effects that are large enough to justify their social and economic costs.

This includes “Three Strikes and You’re Out” and other forms of mandatory minimum sentencing such as life without the possibility of parole. There is little evidence of a specific deterrent effect arising from the experience of imprisonment compared with noncustodial sanctions like probation.

Instead, the evidence suggests that that re-offending is either unaffected or increased. Since policing is relatively more effective as a deterrent than are other parts of the criminal-justice process, police should retain a larger share of declining government budgets, Nagin believes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

News agencies sue Idaho for access to executions

Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Montana and Nevada have conducted 15 lethal injections since a federal appeals court ruled in 2002 that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses. Half of each of those procedures were conducted behind closed doors, reported The Associated Press.

That means that a small group of witnesses, including members of news organizations who act as representatives of the public, do not see, for instance, the insertion of the IVs that deliver the fatal drug mixture.

The practice comes at a time when the method itself has drawn greater scrutiny, from whether the drugs are effective to whether the execution personnel are properly trained.

The AP and 16 other organizations are suing the state of Idaho to force officials to open the entirety of their executions, arguing that the news media and by extension the public has a First Amendment right to view all steps of lethal injections.

"This lawsuit is really all about obtaining access to the entire execution process for viewing purposes," Chuck Brown, the attorney representing the news organizations told the AP. "It's very important in a society such as ours to have full transparency in regards to the exercise of government authority."

Historically, the public was able to watch executions from start to finish,Trina Seitz, a death penalty expert at Appalachian State University told the AP.

Over time, executions became more private as technology advanced. Electrocutions, for example, can't be done in a rainy prison yard for safety reasons, so they were moved inside, Stuart Banner, a legal historian at UCLA's School of Law told the AP.

Still, journalists have always been reserved a spot among the witnesses, Seitz said, so they could report the death back to the public.

To read more:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Canadian killer denied clemency in Montana

The Montana Parole Board recently recommended that a Canadian man on death row be denied clemency, saying "justice is best served" by continuing with the execution, reported The Associated Press.

Ronald A. Smith's case now goes to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who could either grant or deny him clemency or make no decision at all before leaving office at year's end. Smith is seeking life in prison without the possibility of parole — instead of the death sentence he now faces.

Smith was long thought to be the only Canadian facing execution in the U.S., but a link to Canada recently emerged in another case.

Court records show Robert Bolden, on death row for killing a bank security guard in Missouri, has Canadian citizenship, the Canadian Press has reported. Bolden was born to a Canadian woman in Newfoundland and moved to the U.S. when he was young, reported The Associated Press.

The Canadian government, which does not believe in capital punishment, initially refused to support Smith, saying he had been convicted in a democratic country. It now formally supports clemency for him, in accordance with a long-standing policy of seeking clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign lands.

To read more:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Riot at private prison in Mississippi

A riot on Sunday at the privately run Adams County Correctional Center in southwest Mississippi began around involved dozens of inmates before it was brought under control that night. A guard was killed and, at one point, hostages were taken during the riot.

The prison, owned and operated by Corrections Corp. of America, holds illegal immigrants, most for charges of re-entering the United States after being deported, reported The Associated Press. The 2,567-bed prison in Natchez houses adult male illegal immigrants for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield told the Natchez Democrat that 15 employees were freed at one time during the uprising by opening a fence and protecting the route with guns. The sheriff said in a statement early Monday that there were at least two dozen hostages being held at one time.

Adams County Coroner James Lee confirmed that a guard died, but said he could not provide any other details until the correctional officer's family was notified. In addition to the guard who was killed, five other correctional officers and three inmates were injured.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen confirmed to The Associated Press in an email "there has been one employee death" but he said he could not provide more details immediately.

Ohio recently sold one of it prisons to CCA. CCA is based in Nashville and houses about 75,000 offenders and detainees in more than 60 facilities around the country.

To read more:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Louisiana considers CJS reform in face of budget crunch

Louisiana has the highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate. In the past two decades, the state's prison population has more than doubled, with one of every 86 residents serving time.

Even as prison populations have strained the state budget and prompted fiscal conservatives to join liberals in calling for changes, the political calculus in Louisiana has evolved slowly since a series of tough sentencing laws in the 1970s, '80s and '90s bloated the state's inmate counts, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

If anything, the balance has remained tilted toward law enforcement. After a prison-building boom in the 1990s, Louisiana sheriffs now house more than half of inmates serving state time -- by far the nation's highest percentage in local prisons. Their financial stake in the prison system means they will lose money if sentences are shortened. They typically house the same drug pushers, burglars and other nonviolent offenders who will be the likely targets of any serious efforts to change the system.

"The three easiest votes for a legislator are against taxes, against gambling and to put someone in jail for the rest of their lives," said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, a veteran policymaker who has led the judiciary committees in both the House and Senate.As in other states, an increasingly dire budget situation means that interest groups are feeling pressure to tone down their agendas and support cost-saving measures.

The Louisiana Sheriffs' Association decided not to take a position this year, despite opposing last year's good-time measure. Sheriffs are mindful of the state's financial problems, even as their top priority continues to be public safety, said Michael Ranatza, the group's executive director.

"In these economic times, we're generally understanding of the plight of the state of Louisiana," Ranatza said. "We want to be good statesmen, and we're aware of the tremendous economic woes."

District attorneys, who opposed key aspects of last year's parole bill, decided they could live with this year's version after the minimum time served was adjusted down to 33 percent of a second-time offender's sentence, rather than the 25 percent originally proposed. Sex offenders and habitual felons would not be eligible for the early parole.

"If somebody appropriate for parole happens to qualify, and we save money and do it without risk to public safety, that's a great thing," said Adams of the District Attorneys Association. "The budget is shrinking. If we can save money without increasing risk, we're open to these kinds of things."

Steimel attributes the gains in the 2012 legislative session to several factors. Last year was an election year, making everyone -- sheriffs, district attorneys, legislators -- wary of rocking the boat. This year, a fresh crop of lawmakers is getting its bearings in Baton Rouge and may be more open to a different way of thinking. And there are the fiscal pressures making voters more likely to accept giving criminals a break if dollars can be saved.

To read more:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Part V: The Crime Report examines race and crime

This is the fifth in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Race and Crime--Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University.

Fagan began by wondering why many criminologists don't talk about racial issues, even when it is clear there are many racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Some may rationalize that disparities can be explained away by the fact that crime rates are higher for blacks and Latinos. Fagan traces the history of race and the U.S. criminal justice system back to "slave patrols" of colonial days. Later there was "weird science" that suggested the racial inferiority of minorities.

There were racial factors behind the first major U.S. anti-narcotics law, the Harrison Act of 1914, and the Kerner Commission report on the many urban riots of 1964-68 exposed the racial animosity of primarily white police forces toward black inner city residents.

Today, the prison population is disproportionately minority, and so are arrests. Fagan cited research showing that while young males of all racial and ethnic groups used drugs at comparable rates, the likelihood of arrest was twice as high or more for blacks and Latinos.

Non-white suspects are more likely than others to be handcuffed, searched, have weapons pointed at them, and be subject to officer force.

Some of the racial disparities in criminal justice are due to overt bias; others can be blamed on factors like "social organization of crime" (for example, laws targeting gangs) and structured sentencing like laws setting higher penalties for crack cocaine--more often used by blacks then powder cocaine.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Death without mercy

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
May 18, 2012

This week, Texas was on the verge of a momentous and very troubling state action. Steven Staley was scheduled for execution. The decision to carry out Staley’s execution stood to have significant implications for capital punishment jurisprudence.

In 1989, Staley escaped from a Colorado jail beginning a multi-state crime spree that culminated in the shooting death of a restaurant manager taken hostage during a Fort Worth robbery.

Texas is the most prolific agent of state-sponsored death. Texas is responsible for 482 of 1,295 executions carried out nationwide since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  However, Texas’s 13 executions in 2011 are the lowest in 15 years. There are only 10 executions scheduled for 2012 and none was more important than Steven Staley.

Staley is a paranoid-schizophrenic. He is prone to delusions and has been observed in his cell spreading his feces on the floor while soaked in his own urine. In fact, Staley has a bald spot on the back of his head from lying catatonic on the cell floor.

At one point Staley was found not to be competent for purposes of execution. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright, outlawed the execution of the “insane.”

Can a court provide medication to an incompetent death row prisoner to create artificial competence? The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said “yes,” if the inmate takes the medication voluntarily. Staley had refused his medication.

In Staley’s case, state prosecutors argued that a judge can issue an order “forcing” Staley to be medicated. A judge agreed, “The state has an essential interest in ensuring that the sentence of this court is carried out.” On Monday, 48 hours before Staley’s execution, the Texas Court of Appeals stayed his execution.
Why is the outcome of Staley’s punishment so important for the future of the death penalty?

Last month, Connecticut became the 17th state to opt-out of the death penalty. In recent years New York, New Jersey and New Mexico also abolished the death penalty. California has put the issue on the ballot for this fall and Oregon’s governor has imposed a moratorium on carrying out executions.

The number of Americans who support the death penalty has fallen to a 30 year low.

The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of those who have no rational understanding that death is imminent and why. Some inmates with serious mental illness may understand that they’re about to die -- but then so might a mentally retarded inmate, who the Supreme Court has declared ineligible for execution.
Capital punishment is on the decline.

The number of death sentences and the number of executions has tumbled. Public support for the death penalty has waned. A cruel and merciless execution of a seriously mentally ill inmate may be the rallying point for an already energized effort to strike down the death penalty once and for all.

Visit Ipso Facto

Thursday, May 17, 2012

High noon in Oklahoma: Grab your six-shooter

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation that will allow Oklahomans to openly carry guns if they pass a criminal background check and take firearms training.

The "wild west" is not just for the movie theater.  In Oklahoma you can wear your six-shooter on your hip and go to work, church or to the movies for that matter. 

Oklahoma already issues licenses that allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons if they pass a criminal background check and undergo training.

The new law, which goes into effect November 1, expands the rights of permit-holders to openly carry guns and also allows citizens to carry firearms, either openly or concealed, without a license if they are on their own property, according to Reuters.

Fallin, a Republican, said the new law "sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of its citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property."

Businesses in Oklahoma may continue to ban firearms from their premises under the new law, which also prohibits the carrying of firearms on properties owned or leased by the city, state or federal government, at corrections facilities, in schools or college campuses, liquor stores and at sports arenas during sporting events, reported Reuters.

To read more:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Police killed in line of duty increased by 29 percent

The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has increased for the third year in a row.  In 2011 the number of officers killed increased by 29 percent over 2010. According to preliminary statistics released today by the FBI, 72 of our nation’s law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty during 2011.

 By region, 29 victims were killed in the South, 21 in the Midwest, 10 each were killed in the West and the Northeast, and two were killed in Puerto Rico. The total number of officers feloniously killed in 2011 was 16 more than the 56 officers slain in 2010.

Of these 72 felonious deaths, 19 officers were killed during ambushes (14 during unprovoked attacks and five due to entrapment/premeditation situations); five were slain while investigating suspicious persons or circumstances; 11 were killed during traffic pursuits/stops; five of the fallen officers interrupted robberies in progress or were pursuing robbery suspects; and four died while responding to disturbance calls (one being a domestic disturbance).

Six officers died during tactical situations; one died while conducting investigative activity; one officer died while handling or transporting a prisoner; and 20 officers were killed while attempting other arrests.

Offenders used firearms in 63 of the 72 felonious deaths of law enforcement officers in 2011. By type of firearm, 50 officers were killed with handguns; seven with rifles; and six with shotguns. Criminals used vehicles to kill six officers; weapons such as hands, fists, and feet to kill two officers; and a knife or cutting instrument to kill one officer.

Of the 72 victim officers, 49 were wearing body armor at the times of their deaths. Seventeen of the victim officers fired their own weapons, and four were killed with their own weapons. Ten officers attempted to use their own weapons. Seven of the slain officers had their service weapons stolen.

There were 68 separate incidents that resulted in the deaths of 72 officers. Of those incidents, 67 were cleared by arrest or exceptional means.

In addition to the officers who were feloniously killed in 2011, 50 officers were killed in accidents. This is a decrease of 22 officers compared with the 72 officers who were accidentally killed in 2010.

The FBI will release final statistics on officers killed and assaulted in the line of duty in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s annual report Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2011, which will be published on this website in the fall.

Visit FBI

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Part IV: The Crime Report explores sentencing

This is the fourth in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Sentencing--Michael Tonry, University of Minnesota.

Tonry separated sentencing policies in the last century into four eras: indeterminate sentencing (judges' leaving many decisions up to corrections authorities), 1930-75; sentencing reform, 1975-84; "tough on crime," 1985-96; and "equilibrium" from 1997 to the present.

Tonry agreed with Cullen that a careful look at the results of public opinion surveys show much support for rehabilitation programs for inmates even back in the 1980s. Meanwhile, liberal politicians largely abandoned efforts to promote humane policies and resisted or supported tougher sentencing.

For example, mandatory minimum sentence laws of the 1970s typically required one or two year prison terms. Those in the 1980s often required minimums measured in decades. Three-strikes laws enacted in 1994-96 required minimums of 25 years or life.

More recently, developments like the flattening out of the prison population, some moderation of harsh laws, and the emergence of less punitive programs aiming at rehabilitation of offenders could signal a major change of direction.

Or, if the recession abates, the march toward continued or greater toughness could resume.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Condemned Texas inmate: Artificially competent

Steven Staley faces lethal injection this Wednesday in Texas for the fatal shooting of a restaurant manager who was taken hostage during a robbery in1989. He has had his execution scheduled three other times.

His lawyer says Staley is severely mentally ill, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and has been observed catatonic or lying on the floor of his jail cell covered in urine.  He is being forced to take medication so that he is competent on execution day.

Prosecutors say he's legally competent, and state District Court Judge has ordered him to be medicated, by force if needed, reported the Houston Chronicle.

"If he was found not to be competent, the trial judge would just withdraw the (execution) date," said Jim Gibson, an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County, where Staley was tried and convicted.

Staley also has been examined by psychologists, who determined the prisoner was competent.

"Everybody agrees he's competent," Gibson told the Chronicle. "... I think the issue is going to be why he's competent."

Staley's lawyer, John Stickels, calls the competency artificial.

"The state has given him enough psychotropic drugs that the judge found he met the definition to be competent to be executed," said Stickels, who is asking the courts to halt the execution, reported the Chronicle. "The whole reason he's been medicated is to make him competent to be executed."

Staley's previous attorney called him "too nuts to be executed" when the courts stopped a scheduled execution in 2005. And Stickles said Staley's severe mental illness has existed for several years and has been exacerbated by the forced drug regimen Stickles argues was illegally ordered by Salvant.

To read more:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Oklahoma: Curb crime, empty prisons, reduce costs

Oklahoma has established a grant program to fund crime-reduction initiatives by local law enforcement agencies; requires at least nine months of post-release supervision of all felons, which should reduce the recidivism rate; establishes risk, mental health and substance abuse assessments and evaluations before convicted felons are sentenced; and develops intermediary revocation facilities for nonviolent offenders who violate drug court regulations or conditions of probation and parole, which should ease prison overcrowding and save money, reported the Oklahoman.

It's expected the program will save $170 million in the next decade and provide $40 million to law enforcement agencies over a 10-year period to help pay for technology, overtime and targeting strategies such as hot-spot policing that increases police presence in high-crime areas, which can help prevent and reduce crime. 

The bill is intended to address trends in the past decade that saw the state's prison population increase 15 percent while spending on prisons rose 41 percent, according to the Oklahoman. The violent crime rate during that time decreased by 4 percent.

To read more:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Report: Juveniles in Ohio's adult system face challenges

A study released today by the Children’s Law Center, “Falling Through the Cracks,” concludes that young offenders in Ohio's adult system face a higher risk of being assaulted, are more prone to suicide and are 34 percent more likely to commit crimes once released than are offenders processed in the juvenile justice system, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

Each year, about 300 youth offenders — some as young as 14 — go through Ohio’s criminal-justice system and end up in adult jails and prisons.

“Too often, Ohio youth in the adult court system fall between the cracks — they are kids, but are being treated as adults, so they don’t fit into either the juvenile or adult system,” Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, told the Dispatch. She said the report could help Ohio reshape policies to make the state’s “youth and communities safer by reducing the number of youth in adult court.”

Ohio has taken steps in recent years through the Reclaim Ohio program to reduce the number of offenders in juvenile prisons. As recently as 1995, there were 2,795 young offenders in Department of Youth Services facilities. In February of this year, there were 628, a decline of 78 percent, reported the Dispatch.

The full report can be viewed at

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: VAWA protects society’s most vulnerable

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
May 11, 2012

In the fall of 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The law is better known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Vice-President Joe Biden, then a senator, was an original sponsor of VAWA. The law provided $1.6 billion toward the investigation and prosecution of violence against women.

VAWA passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. Debbie Segal, chair of the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence said, “VAWA has been the single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in this country.”

However, this year the reauthorization of VAWA has been met with opposition. The conservative Heritage Foundation argued that the 2012 version of VAWA expands coverage to men, despite the lack of scientifically rigorous evaluations to determine the effectiveness of existing programs, (last week I wrote about measuring evidence-based programs).

Opponents also suggest that the bill expands upon already duplicative grant programs; surrenders the rights of Americans who are not American Indians to tribal courts; and allow services to populations that previously have been denied access based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As of 2010, the number of women killed by an intimate partner fell 30 percent, and the annual rate of domestic violence against women fell more than 60 percent. Despite the progress, there remains an overwhelming need for services, as demonstrated by the following:

-- 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
--15.5 million children are exposed to violence annually.
-- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
-- Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
-- The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year.

Last week, after much consternation, the U.S. Senate version of VAWA’s reauthorization passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 68-31. The GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to draft its own VAWA reauthorization bill this week.

Representative Sandy Adams, R-Florida, has indicated that, at a minimum, the tribal provisions in the Senate bill are unnecessary.

The current VAWA law lacks tribal protections. Federal statistics indicate that native women are battered, raped, and stalked at far greater rates than any other population of women in the United States. The data indicates that 34 percent of native women will be raped in their lifetimes and about 4 in 10 will be victims of domestic violence.

The House has the chance to reauthorize VAWA and strengthen it through new measures to identify and manage high risk offenders and reduce the scourge of domestic violence. No other bill currently before Congress equals VAWA’s capacity to protect some of society’s most vulnerable citizens.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Part III: The Crime Report examines rehabilitation

This is the third in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Rehabilitation--Francis Cullen, University of Cincinnati

Cullen recalled the much-simplified contention of Robert Martinson in 1974 that "nothing works" in the rehabilitation of criminals (a conclusion widely circulated via an interview with the late Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes."

In fact, he said, current evidence shows that rehabilitation does reduce recidivism---some methods more than others.

Cullen is an advocate of an "RNR" (Risk, Need, Responsivity) model proposed by Canadian experts that offers "core principles of effective intervention and the technology to implement them; it also produced positive treatment outcomes."

Analyzing public opinion surveys, Cullen finds that explanations for crime that include ineffective parenting, family breakdown, exposure to delinquent peers, neighborhood disorganization, poverty, and unemployment "provide the public with the logic for endorsing—which they do in large percentages—correctional rehabilitation and human-services."

Many jurisdictions now are trying to reduce their prison populations, he said, adding that if officials are going to place offenders into the community, they will have to “do something with them.”

"Simple parole or probation is not enough" and offenders need treatment programming, Cullen says.

Cullen also calls for an "expansion of early intervention programs, especially because knifing off a criminal career can save an enormous amount of human suffering and of government resources."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Missouri looks to trim prison population through law making

The Missouri Legislature recently passed a bill that aims to gradually reduce the state's prison population by strengthening community supervision for nonviolent offenders, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The bill sets up a system of carrots and sticks for people on probation for certain nonviolent felonies, such as drug possession. Offenders could receive points for following court-imposed conditions of their release, shortening their probation by 30 days for each month of compliance.

If they violated the rules of probation--for example, by testing positive for drugs--the probation officer could impose an immediate 48-hour jail term. Counties would receive $30 a day to pay for inmates serving such sentences.  More serious violations could result in a 120-day "shock" sentence in a state prison.

The state Department of Corrections spends more than $660 million and incarcerates more than 30,700 people. By keeping some nonviolent offenders out of prison, the bill could save the state $168,657 next year and possibly more in future years, according to the Post-Dispatch.

The changes were recommended by a working group that studied Missouri prison data. That study, by the Pew Center on the States, found that nearly three-fourths of new admissions to state prisons stemmed from probation violations--many of them "technical" violations.

To read more:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Disparity Once Again Pervades Federal Sentencing

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
May 8, 2012

Are sentencing guidelines essential to the fair and efficient operation of the criminal justice system? In the 1970s and 1980s, there were wild disparities in the way thousands of state and federal sentences were imposed across the country.

In response, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing was created by the General Assembly for the primary purpose of creating a consistent and rational statewide sentencing policy that would promote fairer and more uniform sentencing practices across the commonwealth.

In 1984, Congress sought to rein in what was perceived as pervasively capricious federal sentencing practices. The Federal Sentencing Reform Act sought to create uniformity across federal districts. The act called for the creation of a commission that promulgated guidelines for meting out punishment. The guidelines provided a framework by which offenders with comparable criminal records would receive similar sentences if convicted of the same crimes — similar to the guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing in 1982.

Initially, judges were miffed by having to surrender discretion in sentencing, but in time came to accept and, some would say, appreciate the guidelines. That all changed in 2004 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court dealt a blow to state sentencing guidelines by ruling that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial prohibited judges from enhancing sentences based on facts not decided by a jury.

A year later, the federal sentencing guidelines were struck down by the court. In United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the court held that sentencing guidelines violated the right to a fair trial because judges imposed sentences under the federal guidelines based on facts not found by a jury. That same day, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that the federal guidelines must nevertheless continue to shape sentencing decisions even if judges are no longer legally bound to follow them.

The Booker case was a straightforward federal drug prosecution. A jury convicted Freddie Booker of trafficking 92.5 grams of cocaine, a crime punishable by up to 23 years and 10 months in prison pursuant to the federal sentencing guidelines. However, at his sentencing hearing, the judge found that Booker actually had more than 500 grams of cocaine. Those facts not found by a jury, but imposed by the judge, increased Booker's sentence to 30 years.

As a result of Booker, judges are required to calculate the guidelines, using factors such as the seriousness of the offense and the defendant's criminal record. However, judges maintained complete discretion on how long each defendant coming into their courtroom will spend in prison.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in Booker that the advisory nature of the guidelines would "avoid excessive sentencing disparities while maintaining flexibility sufficient to individualize sentences where necessary."

In hindsight, Breyer's prediction was way off the mark. The advisory nature of the guidelines has once again created sentencing disparities. The New York Times recently raised questions "about the extent to which federal sentences are influenced by the particular judges rather than by the specific circumstances of the cases."

Some would suggest that judicial philosophy is rightfully reflected in sentencing. A more conservative nominee, maybe one nominated by a GOP president, may pursue his or her confirmation to the bench while touting his or her tough crime-fighting credentials.

Before the nominee is confirmed, he or she is vetted by the Senate Judicial Committee and voted on by the full Senate. His or her judicial philosophy is there for all to see and, more importantly, to be challenged by a senator or senators who are not aligned with, or do not agree with, that philosophy. Once that nominee takes a seat on the bench, should he or she not be able to exercise discretion in conformity with that philosophy?

New data about federal sentencing practices reveals some interesting and unexpected patterns. The data was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.

The study included every sentence imposed by federal district court judges in the past five years. Judges who had not sentenced at least 50 defendants were excluded. Therefore, according to TRAC, the results were based on the first-ever review of the sentences imposed by 885 judges in more than 370,000 cases. The data shows "extensive and hard-to-explain variations in the sentencing practices of district court judges."

Two of Pennsylvania's three federal districts were near the top in sentencing disparity. According to data released by TRAC, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had 16 judges with 50 or more sentences, totaling 828 sentences between 2007 and 2011. The median sentence imposed by those judges was 49.5 months. The lowest average for a judge was 36 months; the highest was 96 months — a difference of 60 months.

In the Middle District, with eight judges meeting the minimum criteria and 439 total sentences, the median sentence was 50.5 months. The low judge averaged 37 months per sentence and the high judge averaged 96 months — a difference of 59 months.

The Western District was a different story. With five judges and 271 sentences, the median sentence was 60 months, 10.5 months longer than the Eastern District median sentence. However, the low average was 37 months and the high average was 71 months. The difference was 34 months. The Eastern District was ranked 10th in the nation in disparity, the Middle District was 15th and the Western District ranked 41st.

Why, in a little more than six years, has such a disparity resurfaced? For one thing, general sentencing data does not account for plea agreements. There are sentences that are negotiated downward in exchange for cooperation and testimony at the trial. Plea bargains account for more than 90 percent of criminal convictions in federal court.

Do the disparities reflect legitimate philosophical differences between judges?

The Associated Press asked TRAC to look at sentence length by the party of the president who appointed the judge to see if the perceived political persuasion of the nominee might have an impact on criminal sentences. The AP asked to restrict these comparisons to punishments imposed after a trial to eliminate the influence of plea bargains.

According to the AP, in the 10 federal districts with the most drug case sentences after trial, Republican-appointed judges imposed harsher average sentences in five districts, but Democratic appointees gave longer sentences in the other five districts. In weapons cases, the longest average sentences were issued by Democratic appointees in five districts and by Republican-appointed judges in the other five districts.

More specifically, defendants convicted after a drug trial in the Southern District of California got an average sentence of 17 years before Republican-appointed judges, compared with six years before Democrat-appointed judges, reported the AP. However, weapons convictions after trial in the Eastern District of Michigan resulted in an average sentence of 21 years before the Democrat-appointed judges and an average of less than 12 years from the Republican-appointed judges.

If legitimate judicial philosophy — be it liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican — is not driving the disparity in sentencing, then one might legitimately argue that federal sentencing without mandatory guidelines is arbitrary and capricious. As the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator recently wrote, "Criminal punishment should not amount to the luck of a draw."

Judicial discretion should not be marginalized, but fairness dictates that sentencing guidelines be more than advisory. A balance must be struck between a reasonable expectation of consistency and the ability to mold a sentence to a specific set of facts.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kentucky plans to close courts to offset budget woes

Kentucky will shut its courthouse doors for three days to help cope with a budget crisis reported the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“In the modern history of the commonwealth, I do not know of a time that service to the public has been interrupted because there’s not enough money to keep the courts open,” Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said at a news conference in Frankfort. “... We cut fat before, and we’re now cutting bone.”

Also, drug courts will be cut, hiring restricted and the high school mock trial tournament program eliminated in response to the General Assembly’s $25 million cut to the state judicial branch budget, Minto said in email to more than 3,000 employees and 400-plus judges and clerks throughout the state, reported the Courier-Journal.

Minton also complained that the legislature did not fund a pay-equity plan that would make judicial branch salaries competitive with the other two branches of government, or fund a capital project to replace the court system’s “obsolete” case management system, which he asserted is “at risk for failure.”

The judicial branch already has cut 282 employees since 2008 because of earlier reductions. Now, to avoid more layoffs, Minton said the courts will close their doors and furlough all employees on Aug. 6, Sept. 4 and Oct. 15.

The cuts are only for the first six months of the fiscal year, which starts in July, and Minton said he hopes the economy will improve, making additional measures unnecessary. “If things don’t change, then further furloughs are going to be necessary,” he told the Courier-Journal, adding that leaders are “hoping to avoid the situation of mass layoffs for our folks.”

According to the Courier-Journal, other plans call for increasing the charge to the public for criminal record reports from $15 to $20. Kentucky schools will be charged $10 for criminal record reports that now are free. And more than 100 part-time workers will no longer receive benefits as of June 30, 2013.

The drug court program will be reduced about 15 percent, from an average of more than 2,500 participants down to a cap of 2,200 a month, though current participants will not be affected.

Kentucky Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton said cutting drug courts seems “counterproductive” when the state is taking other measures — such as releasing people from prison early — to cut the number of people incarcerated.

“We know the drug courts work, so cutting something that works is really unfortunate,” said Clayton told the Courier-Journal.

To read more:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Restorative justice does work

The Youngstown Vindicator
Sunday, May 6, 2012

There is an enormous amount of money spent on keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe.

Notwithstanding what individuals spend to keep themselves safe, public funds are expended to investigate and arrest suspects. Public funds are used to prosecute and, a significant majority of the time, defend those suspects.

Once convicted, the government shells out tax dollars to house, guard and care for literally millions of offenders. With budgets tight — more than half of police departments surveyed by the Police Executive Research Forum reported funding cuts this year — lawmakers are looking for alternatives to the traditional criminal justice model “arrest’em, try’em and lock’em up.”

One alternative gaining traction is Restorative Justice. RJ is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished when the parties meet face-to-face to establish a plan of accountability and reconciliation. A meaningful RJ effort can transform people, relationships and communities.

Comprehensive view

According to the Prison Fellowship International, Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, RJ is different from contemporary criminal justice in several ways. First, RJ views criminal acts more comprehensively — rather than defining crime simply as law breaking; it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. Second, it brings more stakeholders to the table — rather than only giving key roles to law enforcement and the offender; it includes the victim and community. Finally, it measures success differently — rather than measuring merely convictions and punishment, it measures how much harm is repaired and, more importantly, how much harm is prevented.

Does RJ work? Dr. Lawrence W. Sherman and Dr. Heather Strang wrote in “Restorative Justice: the Evidence” that RJ seems to reduce serious crime, with specific discernible victims, more effectively than less serious crime. They also suggest that RJ works with violent crimes more effectively than property crimes. That finding is significant.

Sixteen states have included RJ in their respective criminal or juvenile codes. The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is one of those states. Pennsylvania’s juvenile system is guided by a balanced and restorative justice philosophy. The statute’s purpose clause specifically addresses the RJ model, “the protection of the public interest, to provide for children committing delinquent acts programs of supervision, care, and rehabilitation that provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed, and the development of competencies to enable children to become responsible and productive members of the community.”

Dr. Sandra Pavelka wrote in “Restorative Juvenile Justice and Policy: A National Assessment” that accountability is central to Pennsylvania’s RJ efforts. The accountability component requires the juvenile to commit to making the victim and community whole in the aftermath of an offense.

Core mission

Pennsylvania’s core mission is to insure that juveniles who become involved in the juvenile justice system leave the system more capable of being responsible and productive members of their communities. The measurable goals of Pennsylvania’s RJ include writing a letter of apology, completing meaningful community service, attending victim awareness panels, and providing restitution to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

The final measurable outcome is recidivism — did the juvenile offend again? According to a 2006 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency report, approximately 87 percent of Pennsylvania juvenile cases were closed without a new offense.

Restorative Justice approaches to juvenile crime will undoubtedly have an impact on future crime rates — fewer juvenile offenders committing crimes as adults. Can that success be replicated with adult offenders? The studies tell us yes: the criminal justice costs tell us we must.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Michigan makes it easier to terminate parental rights of sex offenders

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a measure allowing family courts to terminate parental rights for sex offenders.  The measure passed both chambers unanimously.

Sex offenders could have lost parental rights if they violated certain portions of the existing juvenile code, but the amended law now explicitly includes a parent’s requirement to register under the Sex Offenders Registration Act as a reason the family court may terminate a parent’s parental rights, reported

The bill brings state law in line with federal guidelines as required by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization Act of 2010.

In preparing the legislation, Congress found:

In 2008, approximately 772,000 children were found by States to be victims of child abuse and neglect. Investigations have determined that approximately 71 percent of children who were victims of maltreatment in fiscal year 2008 suffered neglect, 16 percent suffered physical abuse, 9 percent suffered sexual abuse, 7 percent suffered psychological maltreatment, 2 percent experienced medical neglect, and 9 percent were victims of other forms of maltreatment.

In 2008, estimated 1,740 children were counted by child protection services to have died as a result of abuse and neglect.

Michigan had to make this and other clarifications to the juvenile code in order to qualify for about $800,000 in federal funding for child abuse and neglect prevention activities, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

“Our children deserve a safe, nurturing environment in which to grow and develop,” Snyder said in a statement, reported by “Protecting them from any type of abuse is a key priority.”

To read more:

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Using the medical model in the criminal justice realm

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
May 4, 2012

Anyone who has had a recent medical procedure knows that insurance companies are tightening the purse strings. Insurers are not paying for needless, unproven procedures -- treatment not supported by medical research.

The criminal justice system is experiencing the same phenomenon. The government controls the purse strings. Tough economic times are prompting a new look at spending priorities at all government levels, and scientific evidence of a program’s success or failure may play a part in whether it survives a budget cut.
The difference between medicine and criminal justice is that medical practitioners know what works -- criminal justice practitioners don’t.

A doctor in Georgia will treat the symptoms of acute myocardial infarction (AMI), or heart attack, with the same general protocol as doctors in Oregon or Kansas. The current protocol for treating patients with AMI is either pharmacological (clot-dissolving therapy) or mechanical (coronary angioplasty).

Criminal justice is different. Although criminal justice practitioners boast of using evidence-based practices there are no standard best practices accepted by all criminal justice practitioners.

A review of efforts across the nation to deal with prison overcrowding is instructive:

Pennsylvania plans on reducing inmates and costs by weeding out inefficiencies. The Department of Corrections suggests that slow processing keeps about 1,900 inmates per year in prison when they could safely be released on parole. Better processing alone could save nearly $61 million a year.

New Hampshire is considering privatizing its prison system. The state's prison population climbed 31 percent between 2000 and 2010 despite a stable crime rate. Half of that increase was attributed to inmates who leave prison and return for a parole violation or a new offense.

California has gone through an unprecedented realignment of its prison system shifting responsibility for a significant number of prisoners from state prisons to local county jails. This realignment has also shifted responsibility from the courts to the sheriff to release individuals who are in jail on bond pretrial, a significant portion of the county jail population.

Mississippi is testing a global-positioning device that costs about $13 a day per convict to keep tabs on individuals — far less than the $41.74 cost to house and feed a prisoner. Elderly and terminally ill inmates are being released to their families, or hospices, saving nearly $5 million.

Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, and Rhode Island have reduced or eliminated jail or prison time for parole and probation violations, opting instead for stricter supervision and alternative sentences like community service.

Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas have attempted to reduce recidivism by stronger emphasis on reentry planning that is tailored to meet individuals' needs.

Florida and South Carolina have created alternative sentencing options for low-level, low-risk offenders, such as probation instead of jail time.

Tennessee and Virginia have removed minimum sentencing requirements for certain drug-related violations.

Above are 15 different approaches to the same problem. Why can’t prison wardens and corrections officials agree on a best practice to reduce prison crowding? Imagine a different treatment protocol in every state for AMI.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Oklahoma executes man twice sentenced to death

The 18th Execution of 2012

Michael B. Selsor was executed on May 1, 2012. He was spared execution once but asked for a new trial and was sentenced to death a second time. He was pronounced dead at 6:06 p.m. local time at the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, according to Reuters.

He was executed for killing convenience store clerk Clayton Chandler on September 22, 1975, during an armed robbery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

According to Reuters, Selsor was sentenced to death in 1976, but later that year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma's capital punishment law was unconstitutional and his sentence was modified to life in prison.

With Oklahoma's death penalty briefly in limbo, the state's criminal appeals court decided in 1976 that former death row inmates whose sentences were modified would not face the death penalty again should they win new trials. The death penalty in Oklahoma was restored in 1977.

Selsor sought a new trial and received one in 1998. But again he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 1997 overruled one of its earlier rulings affecting inmates like Selsor, opening the death penalty option at his new trial, according to one of his lawyers Gary Peterson, reported Reuters.

Selsor immediately appealed his second death sentence but was told he had no right to be warned that Oklahoma law could be changed to make him eligible for the death penalty at his second trial, Peterson said.

"It's a tragic story," Peterson told Reuters. "He just had the legal rug pulled out from under him."

Before his execution, Selsor expressed love for his son and sister, and implored a friend "to keep up the struggle."

According to Reuters, Selor's final words were, "I'll be waiting at the gates of heaven for you. I hope the rest of you make it there as well. I'm ready."  He was the third person executed in Oklahoma this year.

To read more:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Jersey police layoffs result in increased crime rates

Police in Newark and Camden made nearly 7,700 fewer arrests last year than in 2010 as violent crime rose during the same period in the wake of some of the largest police layoffs in New Jersey history, reported the Star-Ledger.

After looming budget deficits forced the two cities to lay off more than 160 cops each, the combined number of arrests fell to 25,012 last year from 32,703 in 2010, records show. Camden’s arrest rate dropped 43 percent last year from 2010, while Newark’s dropped by 16 percent.

According to the Star-Ledger, the decline in arrests has been more pronounced in Camden, where 240 officers remain. In 2009, Camden police made 11,279 arrests. That number dropped to 9,380 in 2010 and to 5,348 last year. Meanwhile, homicides rose from 34 in 2009, to 39 in 2010, to 50 last year. Non-fatal shootings and burglaries also rose in each of the three years, records show.

In Newark, the number of arrests last year was down for the third year in a row, continuing a trend that began in 2009, records show.

In 2008, there were 31,075 arrests and the 67 homicides that year were the fewest since 2002. In 2009, however, the number of arrests dropped by 7 percent, to 28,742. They fell another 19 percent, to 23,323, in 2010 and by 16 percent last year, to 19,664, reported the Star-Ledger.

The layoffs in Newark, which took effect Dec. 1, 2010, seemed to have an immediate effect on arrests. Between January and June of 2011, police recorded nearly 4,000 fewer arrests than they did during the same period in 2010, reported the Star-Ledger.

As arrests continued to decline in Newark, the number of homicides rose each year since 2008. There were 91 homicides last year, the most since 2007. Non-fatal shootings followed a similar arc, rising from 258 in 2009 to 349 last year, police records show.

To read more:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Part II: The Crime Report examines policing

This is the second in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.

Lawrence Sherman, Cambridge University and University of Maryland

Sherman analyzed policing in terms of three functions: predicting crime, preventing it, and detecting it. There is a historic divide between police who "think fast," using their personal experience to make "split-second decisions," and what Sherman calls a more skeptical view that urges police to think more slowly, relying more on scientific-based evidence.

Sherman said it is a challenge to distinguish decisions that can be based on one officer’s experience from the kind that require the far greater experience of corporate data. He urged a strategy of improving the results of police decisions.

The goal, he said, should be to increase the value added by police to building a safer society, "using fairer procedures, under a rule of law and democratic control."

His vision would send far fewer people to prison, with far more offenders supervised by police in community-based diversion from prosecution. Sherman outlined a plan for "restorative policing" to achieve remorse, repentance and reintegration, often with reconciliation and restitution.

He argued that "the evidence suggests that diversion to restorative justice will greatly increase the odds that an arrested offender will be held accountable," when compared to criminal prosecutions---in which cases are dismissed at a high rate for lack of evidence and defendants fail to appear.