Community-Connected Probation

New York City is attempting to create a more effective probation process and to move probationers through the system more expediently.

By using “Neighborhood Opportunity Network” offices, or NeONs, New York City’s probation department is moving the probation office system from one centralized location to several outposts throughout the city.

The offices were selected by identifying the relative population densities of probationers throughout the city. The seven locations with the highest densities were slated to pilot the decentralized probation program. Now, rather than making the trek downtown to check in with probation officers, probationers will meet with their officers in their own communities.

Beyond mere check-ins, New York City officials hope a community-based probation system will increase the number of resources used and community service performed that is connected to each probationer’s specific community. For example, raking and cleaning a community garden right around the corner from one’s own home could have a significantly greater impact than the exact same project on the other side of the city.

But probation officials admit, even while community-centered probation is the current focus, the ultimate goal is to get these probationers off the rolls and never see them again.


Aging Inmates Take Texas Budget Toll

Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire recently shared with a Houston news outlet the list of Texas prison inmates who are incurring the highest health care costs, 100 percent of which are borne by Texas taxpayers. It showed that last year the costliest inmate racked up more than $330,000 in health care costs. All of the top ten costliest inmates racked up well over $130,000 in costs.

There are over 4,200 inmates age 61 or older in Texas state lockups and 200 inmates are crippled, mostly paraplegics and multiple-limb amputees. According to the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, although older inmates (defined as 55 or above) comprise only 6.4 percent of the prison population, they account for 27.2 percent of hospital costs

new national study documents the growing number of older inmates and the high costs of incarcerating them, as well as the wealth of empirical research showing that older offenders have much lower recidivism rates. Let’s be clear. Inmates should not automatically be released because they are geriatric. However, in prioritizing limited prison space to maximize public safety and making informed parole decisions, it only makes sense to consider age as one of the factors that affects the risk level an offender presents. National research has shown that inmates over 60 have a 3.8% recidivism rate and those over 55 have a recidivism rate of between 2%and 8%. The overall recidivism rate is exponentially higher. Moreover, by carefully reviewing each case in a discretionary parole process, many of the few elderly inmates who still pose a risk can be identified and kept behind bars.

Texas policymakers should study options such as a parole nursing home and house arrest with GPS that could offer less costly options and, at the same time, ensure public safety. Ultimately, Texas must be both tough and smart when it comes to achieving the greatest reduction in crime with every taxpayer dollar spent.

This blog post has also been published at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Speaking Freely blog.


New Mexico Officials Anticipate Overcrowding

A recent article from the Albuquerque Journal, titled “Returning Cons Cost Taxpayers,” detailed a potential prison crisis and a proposed response. According to a recent legislative audit, New Mexico will likely run out of prison space within the next decade, and it will be forced either to expand existing prisons or build a new one. New Mexico can address the situation by lowering recidivism rates. There are proven alternatives to the traditional methods currently employed that will both reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

From the article:

Legislative auditors said the Corrections Department could reduce recidivism by focusing on programs with a proven success record, such as drug treatment, vocational and adult education courses and correctional industries that offer inmates a chance to work.

. . .

The state’s budget squeeze has added to the prison system’s problems. There have been cuts to successful court-supervised drug treatment programs, which are intended to help keep offenders out of prison, auditors said.

Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel expressed support for the audit in a statement to the committee. He said the department was taking steps to lower recidivism without jeopardizing public safety.

As reform is discussed, it is important to remember the expected cost-savings of the programs. Programs that reduce recidivism and save taxpayer money are beneficial and support for these reforms should be obvious.


N.C. Committee Unanimously Passes Juvenile Jurisdiction Legislation

A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in the North Carolina Legislature unanimously approved legislation that would place juveniles charged with a misdemeanor in the juvenile justice system.

Under current law, North Carolina’s age of juvenile jurisdiction ends at 15. All youth ages 16 and up are automatically tried as adults, making the state one of only two that tries 16 year-olds as adults. (The other state, New York, has a generous reverse waiver provision in which juveniles can request transfer to a juvenile court, leaving North Carolina alone in its exclusive adult court jurisdiction of 16 and 17 year-olds.)

The legislation approved by the subcommittee would put 16 and 17 year-olds charged with a misdemeanor in the juvenile court system, while those charged with a felony would remain in the adult court system.

Right on Crime partnered with the John Locke Foundation, a free-market think tank in North Carolina, to provide research on juvenile court jurisdiction over minors. The findings included:

  • Adult court jurisdiction and adjudication of youths does not deter crime;
  • Recidivism rates for youths adjudicated as adults are substantially higher than for those handled in the juvenile court system, even when controlling for offense severity and other risk factors; and
  • Adult prisons and criminal justice processes can be unsafe for youths and unproductive for rehabilitation purposes.

Putting 16 year-olds in the adult court system for very minor offenses also saddles them with a permanent criminal record, which significantly impacts their ability to obtain employment and higher education. With this legislation, North Carolina looks to ensure that its youngest low-risk offenders have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and go on to live productive, law-abiding lives.


Regulatory Capture and the Story of Jestina Clayton

Jestina Clayton, in many ways a paragon of the American Dream, is facing criminal sanctions for providing a beneficial service to the citizens of Centerville.

From the website of the Institute for Justice:

Jestina Clayton, a college graduate, wife, mother of two and refugee from Sierra Leone’s civil war, has been braiding hair for most of her life.  Now she wants to use her considerable skills to help provide for her family while her husband finishes his education. But the state of Utah says she may not be paid to braid unless she first spends thousands of dollars on 2,000 hours of government-mandated cosmetology training—not one hour of which actually teaches her how to braid hair. In the same number of class hours, a person also could qualify to be an armed security guard, mortgage loan originator, real estate sales agent, EMT and lawyer—combined.  Such arbitrary and excessive government-imposed licensing on such an ordinary, safe and uncomplicated practice as hairbraiding is not only outrageous, it is unconstitutional.

However, unless the statute is overturned, Ms. Clayton could be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Ms. Clayton would also have a criminal record.

This appears to be a textbook example of overcriminalization, where victimless regulatory violations are inappropriately punished through the criminal law. Why is providing a service, which is beneficial to both the provider and the consumer, a crime? The answer is regulatory capture. The New York Times recently detailed Ms. Clayton’s situation and the underlying problem of regulatory capture.

From the article:

It didn’t take long for professional groups to find that they also stood to benefit from [occupational licensing] regulations. Over the years, more and more started to lobby for licensing rules, often grand­fathering in existing professionals while putting up high barriers to new competitors. In fact, businesses contorting regulation to their own benefit is so common that economists have a special name for it: regulatory capture. “Everyone assumes that private interests fight like crazy not to be regulated,” says Charles Wheelan, who teaches public policy at the University of Chicago. “But often, for businesses, regulation is your friend.”

. . .

This is the pattern that creates regulatory capture — the people with the biggest stake in any regulation are usually the ones who are being regulated. When there’s a public hearing on, say, implementing new rules for trading derivatives, most of the people who show up are the people who trade derivatives. And these people, who generally know the most about trading derivatives, can use their expertise to try to create rules that benefit themselves. In the high-school-­civics model, the insiders would be countered by smart, well-informed opponents who could argue for the public interest. But real life has nothing to do with high-school civics.

The Institute for Justice also recently conducted an in-depth study on occupational licensing, titled License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing. The study can be found here.