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.


New Report from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys recently released a new report, “The Prosecutor’s Policy Guide: A Roadmap to Innovation.” In the report, the Association recognizes the new challenges facing criminal justice systems and advises that prosecutors accept, adapt, and capitalize on these changes in ways that increase public safety while continuing to “ensure justice.”

The report focuses on the ways prosecutors’ offices should restructure to efficiently share information and collaborate with communities and nontraditional partners. The report also highlights the need for program performance measurements such as cost-effectiveness that go beyond changes in conviction and crime rates. The prosecutors also suggest a model of “community prosecution” that is akin to the highly-regarded model of “community policing.” The report explains that “community prosecution may encompass traditional prosecutorial objectives but engage in nontraditional means of achieving them. These are intangible effects, such as increased community support and communication or increased positive contacts with the community that are quite difficult to measure but essential to reducing crime rates.”


Did Longer Time Served Reduce Crime or Just Cost Money?

During the past five years there has been extensive discussion in Georgia and nationally about the relationship between prison costs and public safety. Texas and Kansas were the earliest states to enact reforms in 2007.  Then the recession hit, inmate counts were viewed as budget busters and other states jumped aboard the reform wagon.  Georgia passed significant new law this year and is in the earliest stages of implementation that will take years to evaluate.

Most analysis here and nationally focused on the growth in state inmate populations during the past two decades.  That is because politically popular 1990s do-the-crime, do-the-time policies were enacted with faith in the idea that longer time served by bad people would reduce crime.

New research this month from the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project has concluded, “Experts differ on precise figures, but they generally conclude that the increased use of incarceration accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the crime drop in the 1990s.”  States individually have to decide their own balance between some improvement and $10.4 billion in extra cost to state corrections systems.

What we know today – and it took almost two decades to figure this out – is a lot of people sent to prison were non-violent personal drug users who posed little threat to anyone else, or they were sick and needed medical help more than prison time. More states now understand they must decide whether drugs are a crime or an illness.

When you look closer at national data, inmate populations have sharply accelerated for longer than 30 years.  The country had 320,000 state prisoners in 1980, about 740,000 in 1990 and that more than doubled to 1.543 million over the next 20 years ending in 2010, according to federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data.

You can go back farther and create an intriguing 1925 to 2010 comparison.  Back in the middle of the Roaring 20’s the country had fewer than 92,000 state prisoners and a population of 115 million.  If state prisoner and national populations had grown at identical percentage rates today we would have 1.945 billion people in the country.  We are very good at locking up people.

Pew’s new report, “Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,” studied data from 35 states including Georgia.  Pew said time served by inmates released in 2009 was 36% longer than inmates released in 1990.   Longer time served had huge financial impacts on state budgets.  Pew says the extra cost in Georgia was $536 million.  You can see their calculations here.

“It certainly is understandable that penalties are raised when society or policy makers don’t feel penalties reflect the seriousness of the offense,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. “But most often that’s not been the driving factor.  It was a sense that stiffer penalties would be effective at reducing those crimes.”

Average time served for all crimes increased most in Florida, up 166% compared to the 35-state average of 36%.  Georgia was up 75% (sixth highest among 35 states) and North Carolina up 86% (third highest). In time served for violent crimes, Florida was up 137%, North Carolina up 55% (tied for sixth highest) and Georgia up 41% (11th highest) against a 37% average increase.

Drug sentence strategies and time served are an extreme conversation.  At one end you have personal users.  At the other end you have traffickers and manufacturers.  Pew compared time served by the most serious offenders.  Florida sentences were up 194%, Georgia was up 85% (fifth highest) and North Carolina up 38% (17th highest).  Drug sentences served in Tennessee actually decreased by 9% during the twenty-year cycle.

Florida time served for property crimes grew by 181%.  Georgia was fifth highest at 68%.  North Carolina’s increase was 20% and Tennessee sentences were 45% shorter.

Gelb said Pew’s research “reinforces the notion that state policy choices determine or drive the size and cost of state prison populations, not so much crime rates or broad demographic trends.  These numbers go up or down based on how policy makers respond to situations rather than forces that are largely out of their control.”

The Department of Corrections says Georgia had 54,373 inmates on June 8 this year; that is up from 52,478 last year.  Governor Nathan Deal signed a criminal justice reform law last month that emphasizes alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.

Georgia prisons cost $1 billion a year; probation and parole services add another $400 million.  Alternative court programs for mental health and some but not all drug offenders and other changes are predicted to save the state $264 million over the next four years.  The belief is these changes can be made without compromising public safety.

Georgia criminal justice reform will extend beyond implementation of this year’s new law.  The state Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform will reconvene this summer. Governor Deal has said the council will be asked for juvenile justice and code recommendations that could result in the state’s first comprehensive rewrite of those laws in several decades.

Pew analyzed National Corrections Reporting Program data voluntarily submitted by the 35 states and verified by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Click here to read the Pew summary.  Click here to read fact sheets on all 35 states.

This post also appears on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Forum Blog.


Day Reporting in Union County

Union County, Pennsylvania, will open a day reporting center for low-risk offenders by the end of the month.

In 2010, Union County spent $850,000 housing jail inmates in other locations because its own jail was severely overcrowded. County officials began to search for a more effective and cost-efficient way to manage its jail and realized there was a sizable portion of low-risk non-violent offenders who did not need secure confinement.

The County chose to follow the lead of 10 other municipalities in Pennsylvania, which have adopted day reporting for low-risk offenders, often those guilty of shoplifting or DUIs. Day reporting provides supervision for these offenders while connecting them with the resources necessary to desist from crime and obtain employment or substance abuse management.

It’s much a better option than busting the city budget and burdening taxpayers.


Upcoming U.S. Senate Hearing on Solitary Confinement

On June 19, 2012, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will conduct a hearing entitled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences.” The Texas Sunset Commission recently addressed this issue during its hearings on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. At the hearing, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice submitted the following as part of its written testimony:

A Washington state study found that inmates released directly from Supermax, which is very similar to solitary confinement . . . in that inmates remain alone in a cell with little or no stimulation for 23 hours a day, had a much higher recidivism and violent recidivism rate, even after adjusting for all other factors. Moreover, such inmates who had been stepped down from Supermax for a period of time prior to release were considerably less likely to recidivate.

It is nonsensical to continue a practice based on the assertion that inmates who are being released to the streets are too dangerous to be outside of their cell for more than an hour a day. Accordingly, we recommend [developing] guidelines that discontinue the practice of releasing inmates directly from solitary confinement . . .by stepping them down to a lower custody level, reduce the assignment of inmates to solitary confinement who have had no disciplinary violations while in prison solely on the basis of suspected gang affiliation, and streamline the process for inmates to earn transition from solitary confinement to the general population through exemplary behavior and gang renunciation.


Predicting Violence in Pre-Trial Defendants

Nationwide, pre-trial incarceration – and the costs associated with it – is on the rise. Fiscal conservatives must ask whether a decrease in crime is actually resulting from the increase in costs. In the new issue of the Texas Law Review, an empirical study offers two important insights: first, that judges, who are charged with determining whom to detain pre-trial, “often detain the wrong people,” and second, some measures could provide judges the necessary tools to “release 25% more defendants while decreasing both violent crime and total pretrial crime rates.”

From the article:

If it can be shown that pretrial detention can be decreased and more defendants can be safely released without a commensurate increase in crime, more defendants will have access to pretrial liberty and due process, counties can save substantial amounts of money on corrections that can be put toward other important social goals, and the public can continue to feel safe at home.

The article, “Predicting Violence,” is available here.