Recently in Prisons Category

We are endlessly lectured about how "alternatives to incarceration" will cost less, keep us just as safe, and improve rehabilitation.

And that's true, if one spells "rehabilitation" as  E-S-C-A-P-E.  From the Associated Press:

More than 240 inmates have slipped away from federal custody in the past three years while traveling to halfway houses, including several who committed bank robberies and a carjacking while on the lam, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.


What Evidence-Based Reform Would Look Like

We are frequently lectured that the country should adopt "evidence-based" sentencing.  That opaque language is simply code for "reduced prison terms" (or, for many crimes, none at all, see, e.g., Prop 47).

Still, no sensible person can deny that sentencing should, in fact, be based on evidence  --  that is, we need to look honestly at what's happening in the world and make our decisions in light of what we see.

If we do that, two facts stand out.  First, since the evidence shows that increased incarceration has helped bring about a huge decrease in crime (crime rates are 50% lower than they were when "mass incarceration" took off 25 years ago), we should build upon that success rather than cash it in.  You change what's failing, not what's working.

Second, the evidence about what criminals do after release must also inform our thinking, and it is far more depressing. As last week's BJS report recounts (admittedly down in its seventh paragraph), slightly more than three-quarters of prisoners recidivate within five years of release, almost 30% for a violent crime.

In other words, our efforts to rehabilitate have been as much of a failure as our efforts to incapacitate have been a success.  (Not that this is new).

What to do?

My answer, with apologies for "going soft" in my old age, is that we have to treat inmates much better than we do now.
After the Republican Debate Wednesday night, numerous media outlets published "fact-check" stories regarding claims made during the debates.  So far I have not found a single "mainstream media" fact-check story that has questioned Carly Fiorina's whopper, "Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for non-violent offenses, mostly drug related."

As this pie chart illustrates (click on the graph for a larger view), that is not remotely close to the truth.  Why the silence?

Prisoners: What are they in for?

As noted in Steve's post earlier today, at the Republican Presidential Debate last night, Carly Fiorina said, "We have the highest incarceration rates in the world.  Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for non-violent offenses, mostly drug related." Whether this is a whopping falsehood or a misleading half-truth depends on what she meant by "our."
Along with Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Md. has become an epicenter of the Black Lives Matter Movement.  It took root in Maryland in the Freddie Gray case, in which a black drug dealer died in police custody after having been transported  --  under still not clearly known but possibly negligent, or worse, conditions  --  in a police van.  Both black and white police officers have been charged in the death by States Attorney Marilyn Mosby. This was back in April.

Rioting immediately ensued.  The Mayor declared that there needed to be "space to destroy."  Baltimore's rate of violent crime took off.

Six days ago, in mid-August, the Baltimore Sun announced:  "Baltimore records 211th homicide, equalling total for 2014."

It's  not telling tales out of school to observe that the huge majority of Baltimore murder victims are black (it's possible that nearly all of them are, I don't know).  In the wake of the galvanizing of the BLM Movement, and the ensuing fusillade of criticism of the police, there are now dozens more black murder victims in that unhappy city than in decades. 

Is there a lesson here?

Killers and Rapists, Rejoice!

One thing my father taught me was to thank God for your opponents.  As usual, he was right.

My opponents in the sentencing reform battle  --  those favoring mass sentencing reduction and the additional crime that is certain to come with it  --  have been shrewd up to now in being relatively quiet about the fact they they favor releasing killers, rapists and muggers of all sorts along with the fabled "low-level, non-violent" offender.

But, giddy (and careless) with new momentum as more and more Republicans allow themselves to be bull-rushed into sentencing "reform," the other side has prematurely tipped its hand.

It was never about just "low-level, non-violent" offenders; that was the head fake. It was about creating a new violent crime wave in America (something that is already happening as serious policing has come under attack and, in California, Prop 47's dumbing down of the criminal code has started to do its work).

Hat tip to Doug Berman for putting up two op-eds that spell it out.

Prison Transgender Case Moot?

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The clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today entered this order in Michelle-Lael Norsworthy v. Jeffrey Beard, et al, No. 15-15712:

The Defendants-Appellants' Reply Brief informed the court that "A panel of the Board of Parole Hearings has since provisionally granted Ms. Norsworthy parole." Reply Brief at 22. The parties are ordered to file status reports on or before Tuesday, July 28, 2015 regarding whether this case may be mooted by the Board of Parole Hearings panel's decision and commenting as to any possible effect on whether this court should conduct the oral argument scheduled for Thursday, August 13, 2015. The parties are further ordered to update this court within 7 days of any parole decision regarding the Plaintiff-Appellee.

Obama to Apologize to Criminals

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President Obama will make a trip to a federal prison in Oklahoma and will meet with, among others, inmates.  "Inmates" is another word for "criminals."  The story is here.

I'll take bets here and now that the President will have a great deal more to say about what's wrong with "the system" than what might have been wrong with the behavior of the inmates  --  the behavior that got them sent to prison in the first place.

Really.  I invite bets.  Any takers?

Obama, of course, is scarcely alone in thinking the problem is not in the behavior of hoodlums, but the behavior of the rest of us. Republicans like Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich and numerous others are increasingly falling for the line that criminals are victims (victims of our callousness, that is) and it's the rest of us who need to Get Our Minds Right.

With this thinking so prevalent in Washington and other places like legal academia, the era of falling crime is coming to an end.  We will all be hurt by this, but those who will be hurt the most are those living in the most crime-ridden areas.  This conspicuously would not include White House staff, congressmen and senators, and Soros- or Koch-funded think tanks. 

The Left Goes Bonkers, Part II

In my original "The Left Goes Bonkers," I described a theory that the Just Compensation Clause entitles criminals to whitewash their record and fabricate their resumes' by just making stuff up (or composing "from whole cloth," as the theorist candidly acknowledged).

I had no idea that, instead of merely whitewashing one's prior stint in prison, the Left would come up with the idea of whitewashing  --  or more correctly, eliminating altogether  --  prison itself.

And no, I am not making this up.  The idea is advanced by Prof. Allegra McLeod of Georgetown University Law Center.  If Prof. McLeod has missed a single liberal shibboleth, I haven't been able to think of it.  Below is one paragraph from the abstract of her piece (courtesy of SL&P):

[T]his Article explores a form of grounded preventive justice neglected in existing scholarly, legal, and policy accounts. Grounded preventive justice offers a positive substitutive account of abolition that aims to displace criminal law enforcement through meaningful justice reinvestment to strengthen the social arm of the state and improve human welfare.  This positive substitutive abolitionist framework would operate by expanding social projects to prevent the need for carceral responses, decriminalizing less serious infractions, improving the design of spaces and products to reduce opportunities for offending, redeveloping and "greening" urban spaces, proliferating restorative forms of redress, and creating both safe harbors for individuals at risk of or fleeing violence and alternative livelihoods for persons subject to criminal law enforcement.  By exploring prison abolition and grounded preventive justice in tandem, this Article offers a positive ethical, legal, and institutional framework for conceptualizing abolition, crime prevention, and grounded justice together.

I am seldom left speechless, but this time...................

The Huffington Post, an anti-death penalty outlet, has a story about the escape from maximum security of two New York killers.  It's titled, "Escaped Murderers Left Behind Racist 'Have a Nice Day' Note."  The story begins thusly:

Richard Matt and David Sweat, the two men who were discovered this weekend to have escaped a maximum security prison in upstate New York, left a parting message: "Have a nice day!" But they certainly didn't mean it in a nice way.

Matt, 48, and Sweat, 34, reportedly left the taunting note prior to their escape. The two men, both convicted murderers, were discovered missing early Saturday morning from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York...

The note also includes a racist image -- a "yellow square of paper with a smiling, bucktoothed face," as the Associated Press describes it.

The Huffington Post's article contains not a single word about the grisly nature of the killings, nor about the fact that even the tightest security could not keep the public safe from whatever these escapees have planned next.  This would not be a source of concern had they been executed.

It's telling, and mind-bending, that from a certain point of view, what is newsworthy about this episode is the racist escape note.  It is literally the case that one killer's dismembering one of his victims was not even an afterthought. 

Power Tools in Maximum Security?

Life imprisonment in maximum security guarantees that a murderer will never leave the prison, right?  Wrong.  Apparently it is possible to get one's hands on power tools even in the "max."  AP reports:

Two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel and shimmied through a steam pipe to escape from a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border, leaving behind a taunting note urging authorities to "Have a nice day."

The elaborate escape Saturday from an upstate New York prison had hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers searching through the night for one man imprisoned for killing a sheriff's deputy and another who dismembered his boss.

Mass Incarceration, or Not Enough?

Academia, the defense bar, and others in the pro-crime lobby ceaselessly and loudly tell us that the amount of incarceration in this country is too high.  They show much less interest in talking about the amount of crime.  When they can be dragooned to say something about it, it's generally to mumble that, yes, well, crime has been falling, and yes, that's kind of a good thing, but (ready now?) taking people who commit crime off the street has almost nothing to do with the fact that we have less crime.

Yes, really, they say that

This day, and for the past several weeks, Baltimore has been teaching the opposite lesson, and the deadly tuition for it is being paid by the very people liberals claim to want to help.  As Rich Lowry writes in Politico:

The Baltimore Sun ran a headline (since changed) that had the air of a conundrum, although it isn't very puzzling, "With arrests down in Baltimore, mayor 'examining' increase in killings." According to the paper, arrests have dropped by about half in May. The predictable result is that violent crime is spiking.

The implication is clear: More people need to be arrested in Baltimore, not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.

Common Sense Prevails

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If you are a convicted murderer serving a life sentence, well, sorry, you cannot force the taxpayers to cough up the gigantic bill for the sex change operation you declined to pay for yourself before you went to prison.  The Boston Globe has the story.

The en banc First Circuit reversed a district judge who would have forced the government to pony up for this, and today the SCOTUS denied cert.  No dissents noted.

I'm assuming those who relentlessly decry the high cost of incarceration will applaud today's result.
We hear again and again that "over-incarceration" or "incarceration nation" is the subject of considerable public angst, and that there is a "growing, bi-partisan consensus" (see, e.g., here) that we should scale back the prison population ("prison population" being the euphemism for "adjudicated criminals whose offenses are serious enough to earn them a prison term").

Is that proposition true?  Is the public up in arms in any sense about "over-incarceration"?

No, it is not true.  Indeed, the subject barely makes the radar screen, according to this quite informative Washington Post article.  Subjects of more concern to the public are:  Education, budget, healthcare, taxes, transportation, infrastructure, marijuana, energy, jobs, pensions, crime, and ethics.  Only after that is prison (which managed to get mentioned as the third-ranking concern in a total of six states), followed by labor, environment, elections, housing, immigration, civil rights, the economy, guns, privacy and a scattering of others.

So called "over-incarceration" may well be an obsession with the academic left, dead-end liberals and, naturally, criminals, but the public that pays the bill (1) is all but indifferent, and (2) guess what!  --  cares more about crime.

Fact Checking Obama on Crime and Incarceration

President Obama said in his State of the Union address:

Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

Only one problem:  If the President is talking about 2013, which he certainly seems to be (as 2014 statistics on crime and incarceration rates are not yet available), his point is misleading.  The crime rate did indeed fall in 2013 (for the first time in three years), but incarceration increased.  As Obama's own Justice Department reported four months ago:

  • U.S. state and federal correctional facilities held an estimated 1,574,700 prisoners on December 31, 2013, an increase of 4,300 prisoners from year end 2012.

  • The 3-year decline in the prison population stopped in 2013 due to an increase of 6,300 inmates (0.5%) in the state prison population.

  • The federal prison population decreased in size for the first time since 1980, with 1,900 fewer prisoners in 2013 than in 2012.

  • The number of prisoners sentenced to more than a year in state or federal prison increased by 5,400 persons from year end 2012 to year end 2013.

  • The number of persons admitted to state or federal prison during 2013 increased by 4%, from 608,400 in 2012 to 631,200 in 2013.

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