Prison Union Warns Connecticut Leaders Of Imminent Riots

According to a recent AP article, Connecticut will close the Bergin and Enfield Correctional Institutions this fall.  The closures are a response to the failure of state employees to ratify a labor savings deal proposed by Governor Dan Malloy.  The proposal would have cut the Department of Correction budget by $140.9 million over the next two years.  Because the state employees refused to accept these cuts, they will have to accept the prison closures – which will result in about 400 immediate layoffs.

Upon hearing the news, several local chapters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the prison workers’ union, aired their displeasure.  The local chapters claim the closures will eliminate officer vacation time and increase worker’s compensation claims because increased workloads will follow the budget reductions.  The union further claims that corrections officers are being targeted because of their rejection of the proposal by Gov. Malloy.

Above all, the unions emphasize what they perceive to be an imminent threat to public safety.  Now, the unions claim, there is no extra space to divert persons in the event of a fire or riot.  Luke Leone, the president of one of the local unions, claims that parole officers have been told not to report all problems that would send paroled offenders back to prison as a result of the cuts.

AFSCME chapters have also cited the 2007 slaying of a mother and two daughters by two paroled men in Cheshire as a situation they fear will happen again due to the cuts.  Leone said, “It’s not now if another Cheshire happens but when a Cheshire happens.”  Department of Correction spokesman Brian Garnett dismissed these claims as “irresponsible and unprofessional speculation” and emphasizes to the union leadership that the Department of Correction is acting “with public safety as our foremost concern.”

As Garnett mentioned, AFSCME chapters have presented no evidence or previous patterns to support their predictions.  Leone’s forecast that parole officers are not reporting violations would of course be problematic, but the claim is unsubstantiated.  The Cheshire incident was tragic, but it should not condemn the entire probation system.  Meanwhile, Garnett emphasizes that the changes in policy can be reversed if the unions can come to a different concession agreement with the governor.


Ohio and North Carolina Move Forward with Justice Reinvestment Bills

Politicians from both ends of the political spectrum in North Carolina and Ohio recently enacted comprehensive legislation in their states resulting from justice reinvestment initiatives, according to the Justice Reinvestment Project’s blog.  Both states’ bills will increase public safety and reduce crime by changing probation, extending serious violent crime sentences, and expanding sentencing options for first-time and nonviolent offenders.

North Carolina established structured sentencing seventeen years ago, and has since been a model for prison capacity management.  In recent years, however, probation revocations are on the rise, and a number of sentence enhancements have passed which have placed great strain on the corrections system.  Projections estimate that the prison population could grow by 10% by 2020.

In response, a group of nonprofit policy organizations led by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center (of which the Justice Reinvestment Project is a subsidiary) allied with the governor and a number of other legislative leaders to analyze justice reinvestment approaches to reduce spending and increase public safety.

The reports found that 15% of released prisoners were released with supervision, most offenders completed their sentences in prison, and high-risk offenders frequently returned to the community unsupervised.  Furthermore, community treatment programs were not being properly targeted to those who would benefit the most from such services.

The Justice Reinvestment Act passed with near-unanimous support, and was signed into law June 23rd of this year.  The details of the law are found on the North Carolina Assembly’s website. The law will change probation significantly, assessing penalties for rule breakers, and closing up a number of loopholes.  The law also focuses community-based treatment programs on those who need them most, and it expands drug diversion programs.

Ohio passed a justice reinvestment package in 2008, when their prisons were at 133% capacity.  Like North Carolina, Ohio looked to the CSG Justice Center, which recommended a 13-point policy framework to the legislature.  This framework was consolidated along with a number of other reforms into House Bill 86, which Right On Crime previously discussed here.

Ohio hopes to save around $46 million by 2015, while greatly increasing public safety.  North Carolina is projected to save $290 million over six years while also seeing a drop in its crime rate.


Flogging: Jeff Jacoby’s Modest Proposal

Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe wrote a column fifteen years ago that called for the revival of corporal punishment for criminals.  He advocated such measures because he believed they would save dollars and potentially be more humane than long prison sentences.  Now, as skyrocketing rates of incarceration have become a major national issue (and a major national fiscal concern), Jacoby returns to his idea in a new article in The Boston Globe.

Modern society tends to abhor the idea of public whippings, but Jacoby asks, “is [corporal punishment] really less civilized than a criminal-justice system that relies almost exclusively on caging human beings?”

The idea is also the subject of a new book by Peter Moskos, a criminologist at the City University of New York and a former police officer.  He argues that rather than putting non-violent criminals into our broken prison system, we ought to give them a choice: five years in prison or five minutes against a rattan cane.

This idea is hard to endorse – and it is not endorsed by Right On Crime – but it makes for an interesting thought experiment.  A flogging would be painful, shameful, and horrific, but over in minutes.  Meanwhile, a prison sentence could take several months of a person’s life.

Jacoby insists that Moskos’s book is not necessarily a defense of flogging, but rather a call for reform in the broken American prison system.  He mentions that prisons are good for keeping violent criminals off the streets, but they may be counterproductive as tools for punishing and rehabilitating non-violent criminals.  The problem, as Jacoby sees it, is that we are a single-punishment society that too often offers only imprisonment.

Historically, criminal justice systems serve four basic requirements: punishment, deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation.  A public flogging would certainly serve the goals of punishment and, possibly, deterrence.  However, flogging may fall short of retributive goals.  Unless a victim gets to administer the punishment (several Americans would probably love to take a shot at Bernie Madoff), or draws some sort of peace from the suffering of a perpetrator, the goals of retribution are not satisfied.

Floggings may fall short in rehabilitation as well.  While a public beating will certainly harm and probably embarrass an offender, would it genuinely serve to rehabilitate the person so they may become a productive member of society?  Jacoby might respond that the same argument could be made against the current prison system, which, in an era of tough-on-crime policies, has often ignored rehabilitative goals also.  This point, however, just means that flogging and incarceration are both imperfect responses to non-violent crime.

If nothing else, Jacoby’s suggestion is an interesting commentary on our current criminal justice system.  If our methods are so broken that the idea of public beatings can be seriously suggested as an alternative, then change is undeniably necessary.


New Ministry of Justice Report Cites Kansas Justice Reinvestment as a Model

The Ministry of Justice of The United Kingdom recently released a comprehensive report/proposal on effective punishment, rehabilitation, and sentencing to provide solutions to the revolving prison door that plagues Britain.

Presently, about one-third of U.K. men have received a criminal conviction of some kind by age forty.  61% of prisoners released from sentences reoffend within a year, and 59% of accused offenders are recidivists.

On a more uplifting note, total crime against individuals has fallen 45% from its peak in 1995, but has flattened out in the past six years.  The Ministry of Justice has expanded the use of community sentences instead of custodial sentences for juveniles, and has seen great success.  Its proposal hopes to expand the scope of community sentencing for adults as well, and it anticipates similar results.

The report highlights a number of “promising approaches” which the Ministry believes can greatly improve effectiveness and financial efficiency.  These include a number of community integration programs and initiatives to streamline parole reporting.  The report also suggests a look at justice reinvestment as a model, and it specifically cites the successes of the Kansas reinvestment package of 2007.

Included in the promising approaches is a suggestion that Marc Levin of Right On Crime recently suggested for Texas, a new approach to performance measures that deemphasize volume and instead focus on outcomes.  The concept is simple: “voluntary, private and potentially other public sector organisations are contracted by government to achieve a specified outcome (e.g. a reduction in offending), rather than being paid for processes or outputs (such as number of offenders passing through a programme).”  A pilot program is in place in England now.

The proposal also emphasizes the great economic benefit of implementing reforms to help solve these problems.  Crimes cost Britons an estimated £35 billion in 2009/10, and prison expenditure has nearly doubled in the last fifteen years (up £2 billion).  The report cites the Drug Treatment Outcome Research Study, which estimates that every £1 spent on treatment will yield a societal benefit of £2.50.

Those interested in the details/methodology of the report can find it on the Ministry of Justice’s website.


What Happens in Vegas…Should be Happening Everywhere

Ronnel Pingul, a former dealer at a casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip, spiraled into a life of addiction following a back injury.  He became addicted to his painkillers, and turned to heroin soon after, followed by a burglary conviction.  He will be released in the next month, but instead of being kicked to the curb with no support system (the standard operating procedure in Nevada), he will be leaving prison with work skills and experience.  The Las Vegas Sun has the story.

Pingul is part of a new program that allows for nonthreatening inmates who are close to their release dates to leave the prison every morning to work at M-Truss & Components under Tom McBride.  The inmates walk to the adjacent work site and assemble steel supports.  The men are paid minimum wage – minus restitution or child support that they owe – and the money goes into an account which they can take with them upon release.  But more important than money, the workers get honest work and valuable skills training – both of which are essential as they seek to safely re-enter society.

Nevada’s system is far from flawless.  Lock ‘em up and throw away the key policies are prevalent, but a new approach is clearly emerging.  Recent reforms by Republican leaders seeking to cut criminal justice spending and lower recidivism rates are catching on, especially amidst the recent economic downturn.

McBride said of the prisoners who work at the plant: “They’re employees, and I treat them as employees…When you show them the respect of a fellow human being…it gives them a lot of self-confidence, and that will help them get back in society.”