Christie Calls for Effective, Cost-Efficient Options for Low-Level Offenders

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor as a U.S. Attorney in that state, has announced an initiative to divert non-violent substance abusers to treatment, rather than prison.

On average, New Jersey taxpayers shell out more than $122 per day to imprison one offender—or almost $45,000 per offender per year. And, within three years of being released, 49% find themselves back in prison.

To reduce this heavy taxation burden and increase efficiency in the system, Christie has called for expanding the Drug Court Program, which offers treatment rather than prison to get substance abusers cleaned up and off the government roll. Other parts of Christie’s initiative include a task force aimed at tackling recidivism and assessing re-entry programs according to performance-based standards.

In 2010, New Jersey reported that only 4% of drug court graduates were incarcerated three years after completing a drug court program.  Moreover, graduates gained an almost three-fold increase in employment. These results came at an average annual cost of $11,379.

This alternative to incarceration has a long track record of success, measured both in positive outcomes for offenders as well as costs to taxpayers, and it now has the support of a rising star in conservative politics.

Interview with Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juskiewicz on WorldNetDaily

The newest signatory to Right On Crime’s national Statement of Principles, Henry Juskiewicz, was recently interviewed on WorldNetDaily about the federal government’s raids of his company, Gibson Guitar.  Juskiewicz wonders why we allow “bureaucrats to pursue trivial things for lots and lots of [taxpayer] money in these times of scarcity.”

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Georgia Reform Emphasizes Community-Based Services

Georgia’s criminal justice reform special council has delivered a recipe of recommendations that, if adopted by the General Assembly next year, could eventually shorten behind-the-bars time for some nonviolent offenders.  It would also change the direction for treatment of adult inmates whose needs might better be addressed in mental health settings than state prisons.

The executive summary states, “Many of the policy proposals in this report focus on improving community-based supervising, sanctions and services as well as other practices proven to reduce recidivism, which are essential to improving public safety.”

Governor Nathan Deal’s office released the 25-page report but no news conference was held.  The release had a more subdued feeling than a public event last spring when the governor, lieutenant governor, house speaker, state Supreme Court chief justice, attorney general and other elected officials stepped to a podium to announce criminal justice reform.

Georgia spends more than $1 billion dollars per year on adult incarcerations.  Maintaining state prisons is the second fastest growing segment of the state budget – behind only Medicaid – and by some estimates prison system expansion could cost the state another quarter billion dollars within five years.  Georgia currently houses 55,000 adult inmates, most of whom are men.

The Georgia challenge is how to balance public safety, potentially revise sentencing guidelines, provide alternative sentencing resources and acknowledge cost considerations in such a way that the state is not considered soft on crime – especially important in a 2012 election year.

The special council recommended expansion of drug, mental health and veterans’ courts that could offer alternatives to incarceration, including day-reporting centers.  More than 3,200 people whose only offense is personal drug possession are admitted to Georgia prisons each year.  One-fourth of all admissions are for persons whose major need is mental health services.

The council said supervision for 156,000 adults sentenced to probation and 22,000 on parole after state prison terms also needs a closer look.  Council members wrote that “supervision agencies do not have the resources required to supervise offenders adequately.”  An electronic reporting pilot project is already being conducted this year with low-risk adult parolees.

Several recommendations largely fall along the lines of implementing ideas that make sense without needing revolutionary change to the overall criminal justice approach.  For instance, the council said Georgia should increase the dollar value of felony shoplifting from $350 to $700.  The felony threshold for some theft crimes could be tripled from $500 to $1,500.

The council also proposed decriminalization of minor traffic offenses; those would become violations and not misdemeanors.  This would help to clear local court system calendars, reserving the court’s time for felony and other types of cases and saving taxpayer dollars.

There was a general consensus resources could be coordinated better on many levels to avoid duplication of effort, again to save time and resources.

Governor Deal congratulated the special council for delivering a “comprehensive, serious and well-crafted report” but he also acknowledged its recommendations are just “a starting point.”  A bipartisan legislative committee will be charged with determining what if any part of the council’s work can be turned into legislation that will be palatable during an election year.  Legislators return to Atlanta in January, although committees are already meeting on several topics.

Here is a link to the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform complete report.

Mike Klein is the Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Texas Creates Entrepreneurs Everywhere—Even Behind Bars

Texas is known for job creation—the state adds jobs while others are hemorrhaging them. But who knew that entrepreneurial spirit extended to prison cells?

Prison Fellowship reports on the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization which operates in one of Texas’s prisons. The Initiative encourages inmates to formulate and present business start-up ideas. After six months of work, including putting together a vision, executive summary, mission statement, objectives, goals, and operations plans, participants in the Initiative present their plans to local business owners for review.

The business initiation ideas sometimes continue after release: since the Initiative began the competition, 33 former inmates have started their own businesses. This not only creates gainful employment, which reduces the risk of recidivism, but boosts the local economy.

That’s usually called a win-win situation.

Right On Crime Statement on the Retirement of Texas Representative Jerry Madden

Marc Levin, Senior Policy Advisor to Right on Crime, today released the following statement in response to Texas Rep. Jerry Madden’s announcement that he will not run for re-election:

“On behalf of Right on Crime, I would like to thank Rep. Jerry Madden, the Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee, for his distinguished service and visionary leadership.  During his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives, Rep. Madden has authored landmark corrections reforms that have contributed to Texas achieving its lowest crime rate since 1973 while saving taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

“By demonstrating how applying conservative principles can deliver results in criminal justice, Rep. Madden has not only won the admiration of Texans, but has served as an inspiration for policymakers across the nation. We thank Rep. Madden for his service and look forward to continuing to partner with him, in light of his announced plans to continue as an advocate for tough and smart corrections policies.”

Examples of Successful State-Level Reform from the NGA

The National Governor’s Association (NGA) recently released an analysis of state-level sentencing and corrections reforms. Corrections budgets were targeted for cuts in 40 states between 2009 and 2010, and the NGA points out that operational cuts were dwarfed in their impact by the cuts made possible by closing unneeded prisons. (For example, Michigan has closed 19 facilities in the last six years—saving over $300 million.)

But in order to close prison facilities, states first must reduce prison populations—and this can be accomplished by sending fewer people to prison (sentencing reform), re-sending fewer people to prison (recidivism reduction), and decreasing the length of time in prison (parole and probation reform).

The NGA highlights some of the more popular reform initiatives in the states, such as alternatives to incarceration, amending mandatory minimums, and rewarding the use of evidence-based treatments.

These state-level reforms are clearly a step in the right direction in terms of state budgets and public safety.  Furthermore, in the macro sense, these initiatives permit states to learn from each other’s criminal justice reform efforts because the states, after all, are the laboratories of democracy. The NGA’s discussion of how Ohio, for example, used a bi-partisan inter-branch task force to achieve corrections reform, or how Maryland has put an emphasis on performance measures and implemented technology to track and report those measures—will give the states options and models for success as they undertake the weighty task of corrections reform.

Here is an at-a-glance summary of the reform initiatives highlighted by the NGA:

South Carolina

Reduced incarceration of nonviolent offenders and more closely supervised released inmates to reduce recidivism.

$241 million saved

Nevada

Expanded good time and probation credits to avoid prison construction.

$1.2 billion saved

Kentucky

Diverted drug offenders into treatment.

$422 million saved

Oregon

Graduated probation and parole sanctions; transition planning

32% drop in recidivism

Washington

Increased good time for sentences

$7,200 per offender saved

North Carolina

Swift probation violation responses, restructured monitoring

$290 million saved by 2017

Gibson Guitar CEO Signs Right On Crime Statement of Principles

Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar, Corp., today signed on to Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles.

“I am proud to endorse Right on Crime,” said Juszkiewicz.  ”There are more than 4,000 federal statutory criminal laws in America.  This includes the Lacey Act which allows the federal government to interpret and enforce the laws of every other country.  Big government uses many of these laws to criminalize capitalism and further regulate job creators like Gibson.  This is damaging our economy and bankrupting taxpayers.  Our taxpayer dollars are much better spent protecting the public from crime that actually endangers our neighborhoods instead of turning job creators into jailbirds.  This is why I support Right on Crime’s approach.”

“Right on Crime is honored to have Mr. Juszkiewicz endorse our Statement of Principles,” said Marc Levin, Senior Policy Advisor to Right on Crime.  ”The Gibson Guitar raid has galvanized grassroots opposition to the runaway growth of criminal law.  While many businesses would understandably be afraid to speak out, Mr. Juszkiewicz and Gibson have courageously joined the broader effort to make our criminal laws consistent with the values of liberty, entrepreneurship, and limited government Americans share.  Right on Crime is privileged to have Mr. Juszkiewicz as an ally in our effort to ensure criminal law is reserved for actions that are blameworthy or threaten public safety.”

On August 24, 2011, Gibson Guitar factories were raided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The federal agency ordered workers to go home for the day and confiscated over 100 guitars and boxes of raw materials.  (Click here to read Right On Crime Signatory Pat Nolan’s National Review article on the raids.)

The federal government justified the raid under the Lacey Act – a law originally intended to curb the poaching of endangered species that allows the United States to interpret and enforce criminal laws of other countries.  Gibson imports wood from India to create fingerboards for their guitars.  The wood seized during the August 24 raid was harvested legally and was from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier.  The Indian government approved the shipment, and U.S. Customs allowed the shipment to pass through America’s border to Gibson’s factory.

New Polling on Public Views on Juvenile Justice Issues

The Campaign for Youth Justice commissioned a poll to gauge public opinion on various juvenile justice issues. The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide first asked opinions about the juvenile justice system, generally:

  • 78% thought that the juvenile justice system should focus on prevention and rehabilitation before incarceration and punishment, including 72% of conservatives.
  • A vast majority—76%—felt that juveniles have the potential to change for the better.
  • Slightly fewer respondents believed that rehabilitation programs could save tax dollars in the future—only 64% believed this is the case, while27% believed those programs only cost tax dollars in the long run.

The pollsters then attempted to gauge Americans’ beliefs on the proper venue for juvenile offenders:

  • 57% believed that incarcerating juveniles in adult prisons rather than juvenile facilities increased recidivism risks, including 64% of self-identified liberals and 51% of conservatives.
  • Further, 82% felt judges, rather than prosecutors, should make the decisions about where to try juvenile offenders.

Finally, when it comes to reform measures, 77% favored a requirement that juveniles be placed in facilities close to home.

The full poll results are here. Public support for smart reform principles can be influential for legislators considering these reforms. Indeed, for a legislator to be held truly accountable, the public’s opinions must be factored into any reform plans.

NYT: Perry Displays Varied Stance Toward Crime

A feature story in the New York Times today digs to discover Texas Governor Rick Perry’s record on criminal justice, highlighting a tenure that contains within it a number of reform elements that are in broad concurrence with the principles advocated by Right on Crime.