In this National Review Online article, ROC policy analyst Vikrant Reddy discusses the ruling of Saint Joseph Abbey v. Castille, a case about the unlicensed sale of a funeral casket in Louisiana, and explains why it is “a significant victory against overcriminalization and unnecessary licensing.”
Policy Director Marc Levin appeared on NPR’s On Point radio show to discuss the costs of prisons. Here is the link.
Right on Crime supports applying the principles of limited government to the criminal justice system. We believe that the system should preserve public safety, provide justice, reduce crime and lessen costs.
Certain juveniles in Salina, Kansas, will now have an opportunity to restore their communities and their victims after they run afoul of the law.
Salina County has authorized referrals of some first-time juvenile offenders to a restorative justice initiative. The juvenile will be required to pay a $50 fee, after which he or she will participate in mediation with the victim. A volunteer community member will also attend each mediation to represent the interests of the community.
The mediation will produce a justice plan, which sets out what the juvenile needs to do to make the victim or the community whole once again. Such plans often include community service, financial restoration, or other requirements designed to hold the juvenile accountable for his or her actions while realizing the true consequences of those actions.
If the juvenile successfully completes the justice plan, the charges are dismissed, and the juvenile is able to avoid a delinquency record. If not, formal adjudication may sometimes resume.
Restorative justice is an excellent way to increase the role of the victim in both criminal and juvenile justice systems. To be sure, a victim is the only aggrieved party in many crimes, and their needs and considerations should be the focal point of the justice system.
This morning, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released an encouraging new report on declining recidivism rates. The report examined the 2005 and 2007 recidivism rates in seven states: Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont. In all seven states, recidivism rates in 2007 were significantly lower than those in 2005. Indeed, one state–Michigan–realized an extraordinary decline of 18%. As the report explains, between 2005 and 2007, these seven states made a concerted effort to identify the offenders most at risk for re-offending, and they prioritized their limited re-entry resources for these at-risk populations. The Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections explained his department’s new philosophy: “One of my wardens constantly asks his staff, right down to the line staff, ‘What can we do to reduce recidivism?’ This gets them thinking that reentry is an important part of what they do…that they can do something to improve the likelihood that the people who leave their custody are successful when they return home.” The results speak for themselves:
The Ministry of Justice of The United Kingdom recently released a comprehensive report/proposal on effective punishment, rehabilitation, and sentencing to provide solutions to the revolving prison door that plagues Britain.
Presently, about one-third of U.K. men have received a criminal conviction of some kind by age forty. 61% of prisoners released from sentences reoffend within a year, and 59% of accused offenders are recidivists.
On a more uplifting note, total crime against individuals has fallen 45% from its peak in 1995, but has flattened out in the past six years. The Ministry of Justice has expanded the use of community sentences instead of custodial sentences for juveniles, and has seen great success. Its proposal hopes to expand the scope of community sentencing for adults as well, and it anticipates similar results.
The report highlights a number of “promising approaches” which the Ministry believes can greatly improve effectiveness and financial efficiency. These include a number of community integration programs and initiatives to streamline parole reporting. The report also suggests a look at justice reinvestment as a model, and it specifically cites the successes of the Kansas reinvestment package of 2007.
Included in the promising approaches is a suggestion that Marc Levin of Right On Crime recently suggested for Texas, a new approach to performance measures that deemphasize volume and instead focus on outcomes. The concept is simple: “voluntary, private and potentially other public sector organisations are contracted by government to achieve a specified outcome (e.g. a reduction in offending), rather than being paid for processes or outputs (such as number of offenders passing through a programme).” A pilot program is in place in England now.
The proposal also emphasizes the great economic benefit of implementing reforms to help solve these problems. Crimes cost Britons an estimated £35 billion in 2009/10, and prison expenditure has nearly doubled in the last fifteen years (up £2 billion). The report cites the Drug Treatment Outcome Research Study, which estimates that every £1 spent on treatment will yield a societal benefit of £2.50.
Those interested in the details/methodology of the report can find it on the Ministry of Justice’s website.
Kansas spends over $300 million per year on the incarceration of some 15,000 inmates in county and state prisons, and it boasts a recidivism rate of around 43% (on par with the national average). According to Right On Crime supporter Pat Nolan, Governor Sam Brownback has decided that the national average is not good enough for Kansas, and he is tackling recidivism head on.
For Gov. Brownback, lower recidivism means a safer society and lower spending. In pursuit of those goals, Brownback has partnered with Nolan’s organization, Prison Fellowship, to sponsor “a statewide effort that will bring together more than 250 businesses, nonprofit organizations, churches and other community groups.” The new program, dubbed “Out4Life” will focus on building local coalitions to help parolees re-enter society. These groups will help to match ex-convicts with housing, transportation, medical care, and church communities. According to Nolan, “a top priority for the coalitions will be to match inmates with mentors who will hold the offenders accountable while also providing practical advice. Many of the offenders have never had an adult they can trust and look up to.”
Does this partnership guarantee success? Nolan himself said, “That is unlikely. But we can make a difference in the lives of those who want to change. And that will make communities safer and better.”
Earlier this year, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order to abolish the state’s Parole Board and transfer its duties to the Department of Corrections. The Legislature had sixty days to reject the order, but in March, the Senate defeated an attempt to block Governor Brownback’s plan. Brownback has argued that the move to abolish the Parole Board would save the state about $500,000 annually.
According to the Kansas City Star, in addition to saving costs, the plan would also “bring the state in line with a national trend to more efficiently decide when convicts leave prison.” However, the proposed shift has raised concerns about whether the concerns of victims’ families will continue to be heard. The existing Parole Board held public comment sessions when reviewing inmates for possible release, and until recently, it had been unclear whether these sessions would be continued by the new review panel.
Opponents of the move argued that the projected savings— $500,000 annually —is not worth “denying victims and their families this outlet for continued grief and suffering.” But, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections, the idea that the public will lose its voice when the Department of Corrections takes over could not be further from the truth. The public comment sessions in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City will continue.
In total, about 15 states have eliminated parole boards, many replacing them with a system of mandatory supervised release upon completion of a certain percentage of the sentence. One such state is Minnesota, which now has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country. On the other hand, according to Carl Wicklund of the American Probation and Parole Association, “a disadvantage of eliminating parole is that convicts have no incentive to participate in prison self-improvement programs because they know exactly when they will get out.” A study by Allen Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4 percent of people released by parole boards in 1999 successfully completed their parole, compared with only 33 percent who had to be released by law.
To truly save money on corrections, as the Kansas City Star argues, “the state needs more focus on recidivism.” If mandatory parole makes time served more predictable, the incentive for inmates to participate in rehabilitation and education programs may decrease, driving up recidivism rates. After all, keeping people from returning to prison is one way to “really trim the corrections budget significantly.”
On January 8, 2011, Sam Brownback will be sworn in as the 46th governor of Kansas. Governor-elect Brownback is one of the nation’s most thoughtful voices on criminal justice reform. In many respects, he emerged as the star in a New York Times Magazine article several years ago entitled “The Right Has a Jailhouse Conversion”:
“Brownback…routinely mentions prison reform — especially the faith-based variety — in public speeches. During Alberto Gonzales’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general, he made a special point of asking Gonzales about his plans to reduce prison recidivism. He wrote a letter to The Washington Post in February complaining about an op-ed by the U.C.L.A. psychologist David Farabee, who dismissed the Second Chance Act as a return to ‘the intuitively appealing programs that we correctly rejected 30 years ago.’ Brownback countered in his letter, ‘We should not be resigned to allowing generation after generation to return to prison because they don’t have the tools to break the cycle.’”
Understand that Brownback is not creating a new conservative position on criminal justice. Rather, he is reclaiming an old position that is inherently conservative, but from which many conservatives have drifted away. It is a position (or perhaps an ”attitude”) that emphasizes efficiency — getting superior results at a reasonable cost. He combats the suggestion that he might be “soft on crime” by explaining that his prison reform ideas are ultimately about the recidivism bottom-line: ”I think we have to prove results.”
Brownback does not just talk about prison reform. He has tried to ”live” the issue by actually spending some nights in prison. In 2006, The Weekly Standard covered the story of a night that he spent at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Kansas and Fox News covered his night at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
It is hard to predict what a politician will actually do in office, but you can often get a good sense of what they want to do and where their heart lies. In Sam Brownback, Kansans can be quite confident that they have a leader in Topeka who cares deeply about getting criminal justice right.