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.”

CSG Releases a New Report: Breaking Schools’ Rules

Yesterday morning, the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of Texas assembled a panel of policymakers to hear the findings of a recent report from the Council of State Governments Justice CenterBreaking Schools’ Rules is a highly anticipated report, with media coverage on the front page of the New York Times and nationwide coverage on NPR.  Right On Crime attended the event to hear the details from the report.

The report is highly technical and data-intensive, and it does not make any specific policy recommendations so as to maintain political neutrality.  The study was prompted by the realization that out of school suspension has been rising steadily for the past decade.  The report tracked 900,000 Texas seventh graders (all public school students) over three graduating classes, and it followed them until three years past their anticipated graduation.

The Justice Center chose Texas for its study due to the large public education system, the majority-minority status (less than 50% of students are Caucasian), and the availability of extremely in-depth data that was compiled by the Texas Education Agency.  (A representative from CSG indicated that only four other states had collected data as extensively as Texas had – but all of those states were much smaller and less representative.)  The study tracked four primary types of punishments (in order from least to most severe): In School Suspension (ISS), Out of School Suspension (OSS), Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP).  Tickets from law enforcement were not considered in the study.

Most impressively, CSG ran numerous controlled studies with the data.  For instance, in order to evaluate racial bias in the severity of punishments administered, it compared groups with similar socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, as well as offenses committed.

The study differentiated between discretionary and mandatory disciplinary actions.  Mandatory actions are those that administrators are compelled by law to carry out, while discretionary actions are those that grant administrators the freedom to assign punishment as they best see fit.  97% of disciplinary actions are discretionary, which opens a great opportunity for intervention to fix the problems.

The findings contain a number of groundbreaking data points, which could help redirect juvenile justice policy for years to come.  For example, a shocking 54% of students were suspended at some point in their middle and high school years, and 15% of those children were suspended eleven times or more.  Of children who received disciplinary action, 50% were given ISS, 31% went to OSS, 16% went to DAEPs, and the rest went to JJAEPs.

Children who were disciplined more than eleven times were 56% more likely to repeat a grade, and 59% more likely to drop out.

Among children with emotional disabilities, 90% received a suspension at some point, and 50% were disciplined eleven times or more.  Meanwhile, children with documented learning disabilities were significantly less likely to be disciplined.

The numbers suggest that there are many appropriate points for intervention from policymakers, teachers, and families.  Texas now has an opportunity to take the national lead in juvenile reform just like it has in adult corrections reform.

Juvenile Justice Studies Show Promising Results, Highlight Problems

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a division of the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, has been working for several years to improve juvenile justice across the nation.  Last week, The Federal Probation Journal released a number of their studies and reports on initiatives that OJJDP has sponsored.  The results are promising, but several studies do indicate that problems in the education system are quickly becoming a massive burden on society.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently published an extensive report concerning the high school dropout rate, which is strongly linked to juvenile and adult crime.  As of 2008 (the last year of the 36-year study), 3 million 16-24 year-olds were either not enrolled in high school, or did not hold a high school degree or alternative credential.  The consequences of this high dropout rate are severe.

A report by Texas Appleseed indicates that one in three juveniles sent to the Texas Youth Commission are high school dropouts, and more than 80% of incarcerated persons in Texas state prisons are high school dropouts.  Furthermore, the report shows a sharp increase in dropout rate with the implementation of alternative education programs (five times more than standard schools).

In more promising news, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood program last fall, which aims to prevent children’s exposure to violence, lessen the negative impacts of exposure to violence, and develop awareness about the issue.  There are presently eight demonstration sites in the nation that are strategizing and building local partnerships to determine the best plan to prevent violence exposure.

Gang Reduction is another priority issue for OJJDP, which led to the construction of the Gang Reduction Program (GRP).  The GRP is a broad initiative aimed at reducing youth gang violence and crime in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Richmond, and Miami through community outreach and intervention.  An independent evaluation of the program was recently published with encouraging results.  The data shows that three of the four cities saw a noticeable positive change in youth crime and youth gang violence.

OJJDP has also performed extensive research on the link between adolescent substance abuse and adult crime.  The data clearly indicates that substance use and offending at a young age is a consistent predictor of serious offending at a later age.  Furthermore, OJJDP found that substance use and criminal behavior tend to show a decrease in late adolescence, which they identify as an optimal time for behavioral intervention.  OJJDP hypothesizes that drug use alone is not the door to a life of crime, but rather that drugs are typically associated with the criminal element of society, and drug use forces children to associate with that portion of society.

Lastly, OJJDP released some brief statistics on the negative effects of incarcerated parents on juveniles (the full study has not been published yet).  53% of incarcerated persons in the United States left children at home.  These children are 300% more likely to engage in antisocial or delinquent behavior.

The preliminary results from these programs are promising, but several of the failures are discouraging.  The school-to-prison pipeline is indicative of a trend of overcriminalization throughout society.  Schoolhouse discipline should instead focus on correcting behavioral problems through rehabilitation, not throwing problem children together in an alternative school where criminal activity and societal resentment amy breed.

Daily Beast Highlights Right On Crime’s Efforts

Last week, The Daily Beast published an article highlighting the recent shift in criminal justice policy among conservatives, pointing out several successful initiatives including Right On Crime.  The story contains a number of anecdotes about GOP lawmakers shifting gears to adopt a modern view on criminal policy, and it explains why these new ideas are working.

Take, for example, Texas Representative Jerry Madden.  Looking back, Madden saw that his party’s “tough on crime” policies had done much more harm than good for public safety, and they had wasted countless taxpayer dollars.  In the Daily Beast article, Madden explains that he is an engineer by training, and he saw the prison problem as a bursting pipe: “There seemed to be two answers to this from an engineering standpoint… let ’em out the door faster, or slow ’em down coming in.”  He teamed up with Senate Democrat John Whitmire, author of Texas’s famously tough penal code, to tackle the problem.  Since 2005, the criminal reform duo’s efforts have saved the state $2 billion, reduced the violent and nonviolent crime rates, and reduced recidivism.

Consider also Mitch Daniels – the Indiana governor who, according to the Daily Beast, gets his haircuts from an ex-con.  He emphasizes that prisons cost $55 per day but community treatment costs between $10 and $30.  From his standpoint, a smart on crime approach makes perfect fiscal sense.  But other conservatives such as Pat Nolan see it as a moral victory “to overcome evil with good.”

KOGO San Diego’s LaDona Harvey interviewed Right On Crime leader Vikrant P. Reddy about the article.  When asked why the Republican Party has shifted, Reddy had this to say:

“We’ve got a pendulum.  Things ebb and flow from one end to the other, and we’re at a point where we really feel like we’ve gone so hard and so harsh with these sentences that they’re counterproductive – and those came in response to inadequate sentencing in the sixties when we had ideas about rehabilitation ‘saving’ everyone.  We were too far left, and now the Republicans have taken us too far to the right and it’s time to settle in the middle.

“Republicans have come to realize that our prisons are full of people who aren’t violent criminals…they need to be punished, but we have to think seriously about what the punishments are, and whether lengthy sentences actually help these people is very questionable.  People come to prison and spend time with murderers and rapists, and come out worse than they started.”

Read the full article on The Daily Beast’s website.

New York Announces Prison Closures

When he took office with a $10 billion budget shortfall, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made closing detention centers a priority.  Following through on a recent deal with the state legislature to close seven prisons as part of a budget agreement, Gov. Cuomo has finally named the prisons that will shut down.

No maximum-security prisons were closed, and the load was spread across the state to avoid upsetting any particular party or geographic region. The shutdowns will allow New York’s correctional system to shed about 3,800 prison beds, and save around $184 million over the next two years.

New York’s system has seen dramatic improvements in recent years. The state’s prison population has been on sharp decline thanks to a number of important legislative efforts.  The state has repealed several counterproductive tough-on-crime era drug laws, and it has expanded parole, probation, and work release programs.  Most importantly, New York has seen a steady reduction in violent and property crime in recent years following its reforms.  These reductions have come in the middle of an economic crisis – an environment which is traditionally thought to lead to increased crime rates.  With reduced crime rates, prisons are being closed and consolidated. New York is one of the few states with a correctional system that is below capacity, as opposed to the numerous overcrowded states that are still worried about the implications of Brown v. Plata.  New York’s job is far from complete, but the state should be commended for these exceptional achievements.

Blow-up Bandit Faces Felony Charges

Last month, Right On Crime highlighted the story of Tyell Morton, an Indiana high school student who placed an inflatable blow-up doll in the women’s restroom as a senior prank.  Suspecting that he was carrying explosives, authorities placed the school on lockdown and arrested the 18-year-old.

According to a recent AP article, Morton has been charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and institutional criminal mischief, a felony that carries a potential eight years in prison and will stay on his record for the rest of his life.  The Rush County Prosecutor Philip Caviness claims that he does not intend to seek prison time for Morton, but said that he’s “pretty comfortable with the charges that we’ve filed.”  He feels that school administrators and local law enforcement acted appropriately with regards to the situation, and continues to claim that such brutal measures are necessary in the “post-Columbine world.”

But once it was discovered that Morton had not placed explosives in the school, but an inflatable blow-up doll, was it really necessary to brand him as a felon for the rest of his life?  George Washington University’s Professor Jonathan Turley asks: “[W]hat type of society we are creating when our children have to fear that a prank could lead them to jail for almost a decade.  What type of citizens are we creating who fear the arbitrary use of criminal charges by their government?”  Morton remains incarcerated in a county jail, awaiting sentencing.