“New Mexico spends an estimated $22 million a year in prison and probation costs for non-violent drug offenders. Is there a better use of that money?”
On Tuesday, October 25th, The Rio Grande Foundation, a conservative think tank based in New Mexico, is co-sponsoring a forum that will feature Right On Crime’s Marc Levin as the keynote speaker. The event will explore the bipartisan support for cost-saving alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug possession offenders.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
4:00 pm – 7:30 pm
125 2nd St. NW
Albuquerque, NM 78102 (free valet parking)
Please send RSVPs to [email protected], or call 505-983-3277. Dinner will be provided.
The Department of Justice reports that violent crime rates are down six percent nationally, while property crimes have dropped 2.7 percent.
In Texas, the estimated number of violent crime incidents dropped from 121,668 in 2009, a rate of 490.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, to 113,231 in 2010, a rate of only 450.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Violent crime victimization — an aggregate of self-reported information, which includes crimes reported to law enforcement and unreported crimes — is also down 13% in 2010. A drop in simple assault–generally defined as contact that is offensive, but not intended to cause injury–contributed to 82% of that decrease
Criminologists and experts are attempting to explain why crime is dropping, with little consensus. The traditional explanations (a connection between employment and crime, government service levels, and the economy’s weakness generally) clearly do not apply in recent years. Some experts are so baffled that they have made truly bizarre suggestions – like the idea that positive feelings sparked by the election of President Obama have inspired people not to commit crimes. (No, seriously – some people are really suggesting this.)
It is worth noting that this drop in crime comes after the first decrease in almost 30 years in state prison populations in 2009. It was a drop of only 0.2%, and it was offset by a 3.4% increase in the federal population—but nonetheless notable considering the continually falling crime rates. The bottom line is that it is becoming difficult to argue that decreases in crime are entirely a result of increases in incarceration.
The Washington Post has a new article on the Council on State Government’s first-in-the-nation study on discipline in public schools, including the use of criminal penalties for minor misbehavior by school children. Right On Crime previously reported on this important study of Texas schools, which revealed that 6 in 10 students were suspended or expelled at least once from seventh grade on, and those suspensions are correlated with an increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.
Texas is not alone in this practice, but it is exceptional for being one of the largest states to release longitudinal data on in-school discipline that can be studied in this way. In fact, this problem is pervasive across the country – as highlighted by our recent post about this issue in Connecticut.
The Washington Post article, however, did highlight one major concern: the possibility of federal intervention into state justice systems. The federal government’s recently-announced initiative to address this issue is not unwise in its intent, but it has the potential to overreach into individual states’ freedoms to run their own justice systems.
Right on Crime applauds state policymakers and stakeholders who pay attention to the issue of over-criminalization of schoolyard misbehavior, and hopes to see this problem adequately addressed by the states—without unnecessary and intrusive federal intervention.
Now, we hear that the state of New York is considering a similar change. The Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, has proposed that 16- and 17-year-olds charged with “less serious crimes” be tried in family courts—the traditional venue for juveniles in New York—rather than as adults.
New York is one of the last two states to try all 16-year-olds as adults. (North Carolina is the other.) There are good reasons why this trend is rapidly fading away—and New York, with ten-year recidivism rates of a stunning 89% for boys and 81% for girls—should reconsider the propriety of sticking with its current system.
Juvenile offenders charged with a minor, non-violent crime, are probably better cases for reform rather than incarceration. The rehabilitation resources available in the family court system in New York City are far greater than those in the traditional justice system, and allowing juveniles access to these resources gives them a better chance to go on to lead productive, law-abiding lives – rather than lives in which taxpayers are forced to pay for decades of their living arrangements behind bars.
Importantly, it also seems that Judge Lippman is going to ensure that violent, dangerous offenders are still held appropriately accountable for their actions by remaining in the traditional justice system. This comports with Right on Crime’s belief that incarceration is more than appropriate for violent and repeat offenders.
Before this proposal is implemented, the Governor and state Legislature will need to approve it. The Governor has, in the past, suggested his openness to smart juvenile justice reform and a focus on community-based treatment alternatives, but he will still need to convince the legislature, which has already rejected this proposal once before.
Recently signed legislation in Maryland requires the state’s Department of Juvenile Services to report the recidivism rates for each juvenile in residential treatment, broken down by program and placement. This is excellent news for juvenile justice reform in Maryland.
According to an analysis by Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, this reporting will not cost any additional taxpayer dollars, and yet the citizens of Maryland will receive two huge benefits. First, the legislature and the public will now have easy access to data on recidivism, broken down by type of program. This is a key reform because general recidivism rates can mask the success and failures of different programs, and particularized data is necessary to make informed legislative choices.
Second, the simple act of being required to report this data to the Maryland legislators will put the onus on Maryland’s juvenile justice stakeholders to improve their system. By having to publicly state their Department’s outcomes annually, Maryland will reach new levels of accountability in juvenile justice each year.
This bill is win-win: no additional costs and positive returns for taxpayers and justice in Maryland.
Georgia is getting closer to finalizing the proposals for a complete rewrite of the state Juvenile Court Code. This long process—which has taken close to eight years now—has been overseen by both policymakers and stakeholders. The legislation, House Bill 641, both reorganizes and makes substantive changes to the juvenile code.
Of interest, the bill ensures that juveniles will not reside in an adult correction facility before the age of majority, encourages and authorizes conferences and non-judicial informal agreements to resolve certain juvenile matters, increases access for juveniles to attorneys and guardians ad litem, requires intake analyses to determine public safety risk and custodial benefits, and alters competency determinations for juveniles, among other provisions. It also ensures that complaints against juveniles note whether that juvenile is charged with a “designated felony,” a more dangerous and serious category of felony.
Stakeholders recently gathered to discuss the legislation, and a key component of that discussion was the funding for the bill. This reflects a focus on the costs and efficiency of the juvenile justice system—a positive step for the people of Georgia. Now it is up to lawmakers to make sure that the final version of the bill maximizes justice outcomes for juveniles while minimizing the costs to taxpayers.
Last week, National Review Online ran a story about the recent Fish and Wildlife Service raid on the Gibson guitar factory, written by Right on Crime signatory Pat Nolan. The article uses the Gibson raid, as well as a number of incidents, as examples of a failing criminal justice system, which, Nolan says, is increasingly less focused on what should be its core mission: “stopping the bad guys from harming us.”
This news story is heartening: the rate of juvenile incarceration in Colorado has dropped precipitously in the last few years, allowing the state to close two youth detention centers.
Since 2006, youth incarceration in Colorado has dropped 32% — from 1,480 to 1,000. And the best news is that this drop is not merely due to drops in juvenile arrests, but rather a focus on the root causes of juvenile crime (like substance abuse and family conflict) as well as an increased use of community-based programs.
Texas also recently shut down three juvenile facilities. As state budgets are squeezed tighter, reforming juvenile justice systems away from the traditional model of costly, remote incarceration facilities and towards community-based alternatives and smarter sentencing practices is a smart way to cut costs while providing effective treatment for juveniles. Colorado’s closures—along with mirrored efforts across the nation–can truly be called win-win.
Connecticut is taking the first step towards reducing the number of needless police interventions in its public schools. According to this story, probation supervisors will now conduct reviews of police summonses given to public school children for minor misbehavior.
Under the change in the law, a status offense charged against a juvenile, such as truancy or defiance of school rules, will now be reviewed to determine whether or not it sufficiently constitutes a juvenile matter, and whether further action is in the best interests of either the public or the child. If not, the summons will be rejected and the child’s parents will be notified.
This reform in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system is a necessary change to achieve cost-efficient and effective justice. Arresting school kids for conduct that does not rise to level of criminality wastes court resources and negatively affects a child’s future by forcing him or her to carry a criminal record with them for what used to be mere misbehavior.
It is worth noting that public safety is still an important consideration. The change in Connecticut law includes a list of offenses and standards under which the reviewing probation supervisor cannot reject the police summons.
As the Council on State Governments Justice Center recently uncovered, Texas is also afflicted with the overuse of criminal sanctions in public schools. Every jurisdiction which currently criminalizes minor misbehavior should observe Connecticut’s leadership and consider emulating its practices.