Children’s Law Symposium in Houston, Texas

On Wednesday, October 26th, Children at Risk will host a symposium on children’s law in Houston, TX.  Topics include juvenile justice, juvenile mental health, immigration, human trafficking, and education.  Speakers include Texas Senator John Whitmire and Federal District Judge Michael Schneider.

Entrance is $90 for attorneys in private practice, $50 for non-profit/government attorneys and non-attorney professionals, and $20 for students.  Lunch will be provided, and CLE credit is pending.  You can early register here.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

9am-2:30pm

Fulbright Tower

1301 McKinney Street

Houston, Texas 77010

For more information, email RJ Hazeltine at [email protected].

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Have You Committed A Felony Today?

On Friday, October 7th, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in conjunction with The Heritage Foundation, will be hosting an event discussing the difficult maze that Capitol Hill staffers navigate to stay on the right side of the law.  The event will feature Ross Garber of Shipman & Goodwin, LLP, as well as Timothy O’Toole of Miller & Chevalier, and will be moderated by Paul Larkin of The Heritage Foundation.

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Rayburn House Building, B354 B339

Washington D.C., 20515

12:00 pm-1:15 pm

Lunch will be provided.  Please RSVP to [email protected] or (202) 608-6205 by October 5th.

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Penn Law Review Symposium: “Sentencing Law: Rhetoric and Reality”

On October 28th and 29th, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, is hosting a symposium on the issues surrounding American sentencing law.  The two-day seminar will feature a number of prominent legal figures.  During the symposium, Right on Crime signatories Asa Hutchinson and John DiIulio will participate in a panel discussion entitled “The Politics of Sentencing.”  The panel is co-sponsored by Right on Crime and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The panel discussion takes place at 6:00 PM on Friday, October 28th.

For preregistering attendees, symposium admission is $75 for professionals in private practice, $35 for government, nonprofit, and academic professionals, $10 for students, and free for University of Pennsylvania students.  Meals will be served, and the program has been approved for 12 hours of CLE credit.  To preregister, click here, and scroll to the bottom of the page.

October 28th-29th

University of Pennsylvania Law School

3400 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia, PA 19104

For more information, contact Eric Cheng at [email protected].

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The Texas Model

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has launched a series of short papers that defend the “Texas Model” of government.  The latest papers cover the Texas adult corrections system and the Texas juvenile justice system.  Click below to read them:

The Texas Model: Adult Corrections

The Texas Model: Juvenile Justice

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Restorative Practices: A Different Kind of School Discipline

Laura Mirsky, writing for Educational Leadership, discusses the application and results of restorative practices in a few public schools that have implemented them. Restorative practices are an alternative to “exclusionary and punitive discipline,” according to Mirsky, such as detentions or suspensions. These practices, when used in schools, involve a focus on repairing harm by having the youth offender confront his or her behavior and responsibility for it.

Mirsky goes on to describe different types of restorative practices. A restorative conference involves each affected party discussing what happened, how it affected them, and how to repair the harm done. This tactic can show an offending child the effects of his or her actions from others’ perspectives, which can lead to future reform. Another practice is the affective statement, or a way to express feelings in a highly personal way rather than with anger or blame. According to Mirsky, such statements expressing feelings build relationships and make the consequences of one’s actions far more tangible. Finally, restorative practices can also include restorative circles, or a way to involve group dynamics in information sharing and feedback processes, which strengthens the sense of community and togetherness.

The article also describes the results enjoyed by schools using restorative practices: lower rates of misbehavior, which decreases suspensions and expulsions, and even improved academic performance. Restorative practices must be employed in conjunction with traditional discipline in order to be effective, but they are certainly worth consideration. In Texas and across the nation, school discipline is in dire need of reform—and restorative practices may be, in some situations, a good solution.

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More Reform Efforts in Missouri

Missouri has formed a new task force to improve the effectiveness of their criminal justice system while reducing costs to taxpayers. Specifically, the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections is studying diversions from incarceration that avoid the high costs of residential treatment.

The group, which brings together Republicans and Democrats, and elected officials and state agencies, recognizes that there are certain segments of the adult offender population for whom incarceration is required. However, for lower risk offenders, such as first-time, non-violent offenders, there are alternatives to incarceration which are more effective and do not squeeze tight state budgets as much.

Right on Crime has long been an advocate for alternatives to incarceration. In Texas, for example, the introduction of probation as an alternative to incarceration has drastically reduced costs, crime, and recidivism. As the Missouri work group plans to propose legislative reforms in 2012, Right on Crime applauds their efforts and hopes that effective and efficient reform is the result.

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NCSL: Focused on Effective State Sentencing and Corrections

Last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures released a report from its Sentencing and Corrections Work Group titled “Principles of Effective State Sentencing and Corrections Policy.”

For the past year, the work group has sought to identify the principles integral to effective criminal justice, especially in light of the difficult budget climate that states now face. One of the co-chairs of the work group, Texas state Representative Jerry Madden, has been a leader in reforming criminal justice in Texas, and he brought that wealth of experience to the group and the report.

The report highlights, among several important propositions, the necessity of proportionality in sentencing. It is essential that, along with considerations of the victim’s restoration and the community’s safety, sentences are commensurate with crimes. Without this guiding principle, the work group cautions, prison population growth would be unsustainable and would fail to represent a positive return on the state’s investment. Furthermore, the report discusses the need for alternatives to incarceration, which assures treatment is tailored to the crime and the criminal, and result in cost savings.

The report comes at a critical time in America’s long struggle with criminal justice reform. As we’ve discussed here at Right on Crime, several states are currently considering reform, and many more will need to follow suit when confronted with the inescapable success of efficient, cost-effective reform measures. Legislators and stakeholders alike should read and consider the proposals in NCSL’s report carefully—they may hold the key to each state’s effective justice reform.

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More Evidence that Juvenile Incarceration Must be Meted Out Carefully

Incarceration is a central component of the criminal justice system, and for many offenders, incarceration is the only appropriate response. It is not, however, appropriate for every offender—and this principle rings especially true for non-violent juvenile offenders.

Last week, Dr. Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project provides further evidence that incarceration must be carefully deliberated before being included in a sentence for a juvenile. According to Dr. Nellis, the collateral effects of incarceration include disclosure of sensitive information, exclusion from public schools, impairment of college admission opportunities, fewer job opportunities, eviction, and in some cases, life-long placement on sex offender registries.

These collateral consequences of incarceration are in addition to one of the direct consequences of incarceration—that when applied in cases where it is unnecessary, it is less effective at reducing recidivism and rehabilitating offenders, and more expensive for taxpayers.

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Vermont’s Incarceration Spike

Vermont’s governor made criminal justice reform a top priority when he took office in January.  He hoped to reduce the state prison population by reforming the parole system and thereby imprisoning fewer non-violent offenders.  However, according to a recent article from the Montpelier Argus, despite seeing a reduction in incarceration of sentenced offenders, Vermont has seen a significant spike in detainees awaiting trial in the last two months (up to a record 406 inmates last month).

About 100 of the inmates are on $10,000 bail or less, indicating predominantly minor charges.  Administrative Judge Amy Davenport dug deeper to determine whether some offenders had been unduly sentenced, but she “didn’t find any blatantly low-level offenses where you ask, ‘Why is this person in jail?’” Some of the cases appear to be minor and low-level, but Judge Davenport maintains that most low-level offenders had deeper problems.  In one case, a defendant had committed one minor underlying crime, but had seventeen violations of his release conditions.  According to Judge Davenport, it becomes an accountability issue at that point.

Legislation was passed several years ago to encourage judges to use home detention in lieu of formal incarceration, but as of Friday, not a single person was held in home detention in Vermont.  According to Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, defense attorneys have been rejected so many times that they don’t bother drafting the motions for it.  “It’s become one of those things where they don’t want to beat their head against the wall.”

Valerio believes that the focus on lowering detainee numbers is helping to fix some of the small problems in the corrections system, but that Vermont is too timid to fix the big ones.  In his opinion, the real solution is to release low-risk inmates and instead use community supervision alternatives to monitor them, but he fears that Vermont’s leaders are too politically scared to take the necessary steps.

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Jim Webb Finishing Senate Career Right

Jim Webb is in and out of prisons at a rapid rate.  The fiery Virginia senator is by no means a criminal, but for thirty years now he has been touring prisons and asking questions.

As a conservative democrat who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in the Vietnam War, served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, and once criticized affirmative action as “state-sponsored racism,” Webb may not seem to fit the profile of most criminal justice reform champions.  Yet according to this week’s Newsweek, Senator Webb is leading the charge admirably.

Webb, a man who is committed to “preserving fairness while also preserving discipline,” crunched the numbers, and found that the United States is responsible for 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, but only 5% of the total population.  He also found that Japan imprisons 63 people per 100,000 citizens, compared to the United States’ 743.  As Senator Webb likes to put it, “Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the U.S., or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.” He later saw the recidivism figures, along with the post-release employment figures, and he decided that something needed to change.

In 2009, Webb introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, which would conduct the first review of national crime policy in forty-five years.  He has been fighting with “stress, insanity, and gnashing of teeth” to get it passed ever since.

Initially, says Webb, the conservative senators “assumed this was all about drugs…so there was hesitation.”  But with state budgets struggling, senators are seeing the rapid growth in corrections as a place where real spending cuts can be made without harming public safety.  Webb’s plan now has thirty-nine cosponsors (including a number of conservatives, along with numerous conservative interest groups), and he estimates that he has the required two-thirds majority in line to pass it.

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