The United States Sentencing Commission symposium on alternative sentencing began yesterday and continues today. I participated in a panel yesterday and was able to attend part of that day's sessions. The commission is having the proceedings transcribed by actual court reporters (nice to be in judicial branch and have access to that resource), and I am told the full transcripts will be on the web site eventually. That is unique for a symposium of this kind, in my experience. Another innovation was to put the speakers' materials on a CD for the participants. Those of us who travel without checked luggage are grateful. One time I had to mail my conference materials back, as they wouldn't fit in my carry-on.
The opening plenary sessions included some talks on "what works," i.e., reduces recidivism. Unfortunately, the speakers' statements as to what works were necessarily conclusory and in some cases seemed to contradict each other. It will be necessary to get the full papers and check the references to untangle this.
The fellow from the Sentencing Project said what the Sentencing Project always says. Incarceration is a total failure. It doesn't reduce crime at all. It is the monster that is swallowing state budgets whole, yada, yada, yada.
I pointed out that the other side's own best experts credit incarceration with 27% of the crime drop of the 90s, with a major savings in human suffering, a point I have noted before on this blog. I further noted that, according the National Association of State Budget Officers, the corrections share of total state spending hasn't increased at all in the last 12 fiscal years.
I attended the session on electronic monitoring, which I consider one of the most promising alternatives. I would feel better about a burglar being out of prison if he knows that we know where he is every minute of every day. Unfortunately, there are still technical difficulties that preclude such full information. There are "dead zones," such as subways, where an offender can go and slip off the monitor with no way for us to know.
Overall, a worthwhile symposium. Wish I could have attended more of it.