Recently in Prisons Category

Sarah Le has this article with the above title in the Epoch Times:

Crime has been going up in California, and some members of law enforcement and their support organizations are blaming a series of changes to California's criminal justice system in recent years.

Violent crime in California increased 10 percent and property crime increased 8.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the California Office of the Attorney General. In Los Angeles, violent crime increased three years in a row, rising 69.5 percent since 2013, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

"Our city has experienced a steady crime increase in almost all categories," said LAPD Sergeant Jerretta Sandoz, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, in a press release.

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Michael Rushford, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said: "If you have a fire and you pour more gas on it, you get more fire. The gas in this case is the release of criminals into the communities and changes in laws that reduce the consequences for new crimes."

"Now we're leaving habitual felons in the counties, and they're evolving into violent criminals," he said.

Fabio For Governor?

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Stuart Varney has this interview with actor Fabio Lanzoni.

He also spoke out against California Governor Jerry Brown's Proposition 57, which modifies the state's prison system.

"He is releasing tens of thousands of criminals back in the streets and also he lowered the crime into misdemeanor," he said, and added that "cops are very demoralized."

"You saw it happen to Europe, the politicians in Europe--they neuter the law enforcement and now they have to be shot before they can even return the fire... you don't want this movie coming to a theater near you," he said.
Hmmm.  Should we elect him governor in 2018?  California's record with actor-governors is mixed, but they have been better than some of the non-actors.

Jail Inmates and Mental Illness

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Michael Balsamo of AP has this article on the chronic problem of mental illness and jail inmates, focusing on LA County and methamphetamine abuse.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs has this post acknowledging the problem but reminding the public where most of the blame for the situation belongs.

The state legislature is responsible in large part for the rise of inmates with mental health issues.  It is the state, not local law enforcement, which made the decision to close mental institutions, refuse to allow involuntary mental health treatment, and then dump on the streets those who could/should have been treated. Instead, we simply wait for them to victimize other people, incarcerate them for those crimes, and then blame jail deputies guarding them for not being orderlies or psychiatrists.
The post goes on to note that ill-conceived legislation and initiatives shifting corrections burdens from the state prisons to the county jails have also aggravated the problem.

Federal Criminal Statistics

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a report on Federal Justice Statistics 2013-2014.  Note the time lag.  That's part of the problem with justice statistics.

Another problem is that statistics are sometimes defined in ways that people would not expect.  "Tracking recidivism rates involved identifying prisoners released from federal prison following a U.S. district court commitment between 1998 and 2014."

What about people released from federal prison and subsequently prosecuted by state authorities?  Not in the definition.  Not tracked.

Three-fifths of federal arrests in 2014 were made in just 5 of the nation's 94 judicial districts -- Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California.  What do these five districts have that none of the others have?  You guessed it.
In a post a few days ago, I noted what was advertised as a scholarly article arguing that "data-driven" analysis, assessed through the lens of law and economics, tells us that we can and should abolish prison.  I had my doubts, as did everyone who commented on the entry.

Still, legal academics, for all their zaniness, keep on keepin' on.

Today's specimen, featured (as was its predecessor) in SL&P, tells us that we can virtually abolish prison through technology.  Ankle bracelets, movement monitors, and a nifty gadget called a "conducted energy device" (which appears to be a euphemism for an electronic shock belt) would "achieve all of the appropriate objectives of imprisonment, including both the imposition of proportionate punishment and also community protection."

Where to start?
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Since 2011, California has gone further than other states in the rapid dismantling of its tough-on-crime policies, so we have been keeping track of California crime rates as compared with the nation as a whole.  Here are graphs showing 2011 to 2015 with data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.*

The "realignment" bill, AB109, took effect in October 2011, and one would not expect much effect in the first couple of months.  So we can consider 2011 to be a base year.  California shows a jump in violent crime the following year while the rate for the country as a whole was essentially flat.  California had a sharp jump in property crime for 2012, while the national rate was declining.

Fatal Compassion

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Kristine Phillips reports for the WaPo:

In 1991, Michigan man Gregory Green stabbed his wife in the face and chest, killing her and their unborn child. Then, he called 911 and waited for police to come.

After serving about 16 years in prison for murder, Green was released on parole with the support of family and friends, including a pastor who lobbied on his behalf and whose daughter Green would marry.

"Gregory and I were friends before his mishap and he was incarcerated," Fred Harris, a pastor in Detroit, wrote to the Michigan parole board in August 2005. "He was a member of our church ... I feel he has paid for his unfortunate lack of self control and the damage he has caused as much as possible and is sorry."

"If he was to be released he would be welcomed as a part of our church community and whatever we could do to help him adjust, we would," Harris wrote again a year later.

Green was released in 2008 and later married Faith Harris. They had two daughters, Koi, 5, and Kaliegh, 4.

A heart-warming story from the Land of the Second Chance, right?  Read on.
How soft do we have to get on our very worst criminals before people stop accusing us of being inhumane to them?  The case of Norway demonstrates that there is no limit, so we might as well not even worry about that.

As noted on this blog back in 2011, Anders Breivik's sentence of 21 years comes to about 14 weeks per life taken.  The lives of innocent people are pretty cheap in Norway if you only get 14 weeks for taking one.

Yet, as noted here last year, a Norway court found that even this outrageously lenient sentence was being executed inhumanely because Breivik's "three-room prison suite furnished with a treadmill, a refrigerator, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation, a desk, a television, and a radio" was too isolated.

Today, Agence France-Presse reports:

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has not been treated "inhumanely" by being held in isolation in prison, an Oslo appeals court has ruled, overturning a lower court judgment.

"Breivik is not, and has not, been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," it said.

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Scott Calvert and Jon Kamp report for the WSJ:

A Delaware prison uprising ended Thursday with a longtime correctional officer dead, after a tactical team stormed a building taken over by inmates who had held four employees hostage the day before.
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Prison officials offered no details on the death of Sgt. Steven Floyd, 47 years old, a 16-year veteran who was found unresponsive and pronounced dead at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Del., early Thursday morning.

Delaware Gov. John Carney called for an investigation to determine what happened and said the responsible parties would be held accountable.

And how exactly are you going to hold them responsible, Governor Carney, if it turns out that the group includes persons already sentenced to life in prison?  Give them another life sentence?  Make it "consecutive"?  Lives are issued one to a customer; there is no consecutive.

Delaware has the death penalty in theory, but it does not have it in practice.  The Delaware Supreme Court wrongly held that Hurst v. Florida rendered the state's death penalty law unconstitutional.  At the time, I asked the rhetorical question, "Does Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn have the requisite vertebrae to petition for certiorari?"  Alas, the answer is no.

How about pushing through a bill to not only restore the death penalty but to expedite the review process?
As crime rises in may parts of the country, particularly in urban centers and states invested heavily in alternative sentencing, the call to end so called "mass incarceration" is still a high priority for the left as evidenced by this OpEd in the Sacramento Bee by Foon Rhee.  The author praises the outgoing President's embrace of sentencing reform and California's aggressive alternative sentencing policies, but he fears that that the incoming President will reverse this trend.  He suggests that on top of the tens of thousands of criminals already released early under these policies another 364,000 state and federal non-violent and drug offenders can be released without threatening public safety. 

The next day, a story buried in the same paper reported that drug overdose deaths have increased by 33% over the last five years, according to the CDC. A more thorough story on this issue was written by Michael Casey of CNS news.  A 2015 report by the Urban Institute found that 99% of drug offenders in federal prison were convicted of trafficking.  Anyone familiar with criminal trials understands that virtually all of the dealers got a plea bargain. 

In California, as a result of Proposition 47, which converted felony drug possession to a misdemeanor, drug arrests are down dramatically.  Under the state's Realignment law, most drug dealers do not go to prison anymore and users, if police even bother to arrest them, are cited and punished with a few hours in a local jail as reported in the Desert Sun. 

There has been much debate on this blog regarding whether drug dealers should be considered violent criminals.   Assessing the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed by the illegal drugs they sell, I would say yes.  Mr. Rhee and others who think like him would likely disagree, as I am sure that they would be quick to deny any connection between the mass release of federal and state drug dealers and the increase in overdose deaths. 
An implicit assumption in the outcry for releasing "nonviolent offenders" is that criminals specialize, and a person in prison for, say, burglary, is no more likely to commit a violent crime than regular law-abiding people are.  Last month, California voters approved an initiative for releasing supposedly "nonviolent" criminals by a landslide even while they rejected an initiative to repeal the death penalty by a greater margin than they did four years ago.  That indicates the extent to which the "nonviolent offender" myth has taken hold.

But it's a bunch of hooey.  Today the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released supplemental data on Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010.

How many prisoners released in 2005 were rearrested by 2010, and for what crimes?

For those committed for violent offenses, 33.1% were rearrested for another violent offense.  For those whose most serious commitment offense was classified as a property offense, 28.5% were rearrested for a violent offense.

Is that a big difference?  No, it is a small, bordering on trivial, difference.  The premise that "nonviolent offenders" can be released without placing law-abiding people at increased risk of violent victimization is just plain wrong.

No on 57 Press Conference

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This morning I attended a press conference by the opposition to California Proposition 57, Gov. Brown's Jailbreak Initiative.  The campaign website is here.
In a news release yesterday the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that the recidivism rate for offenders released from state prison has declined steadily over the past five years and is now down to 44.6%.  Responding to these numbers CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan said, "The latest recidivism rate shows that we're helping more inmates learn how to live a law-abiding, productive life."  This statement is easily worthy of ten Pinocchios.  As the report notes the CDCR bases recidivism rates on how many criminals return to state prison for a new felony conviction or a parole violation within three years of their release.  Secretary Kernan must assume that everybody forgot that five years ago his boss (the Governor) signed AB109 (aka Public Safety Realignment)  into law.  Realignment prohibits prison sentences for virtually all property felonies, parole violations and even crimes like assault.  The most severe sentence a car thief, commercial burglar, or wife beater can receive under Realignment is time in county jail, and guess what?  As the state's inmate population had gone down, county jails have been filled to overflowing forcing the early release of thousands of habitual felons every week.  It may also be news to Secretary Kernan that crime has increased virtually everywhere in California, and not just property crimes.  FBI numbers released in January showed an increase in violent crime of 12.9% in the state's 67 largest cities last year.  A more recent report released by California Police Chiefs found that last year violent crime increased by 15.4% in cities with populations of less than 100,000.   
Habeas corpus is the correct procedure for persons who claim they are wrongly imprisoned.  For any other civil rights claim in federal court by a state prisoner, the correct procedure is a suit under the civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. §1983.  The line between the two is not always clear.

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting sort of en banc, decided Nettles v. Grounds, No. 12-16935:

Damous Nettles, a prisoner serving a life sentence in California prison, appeals the district court's dismissal of his habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction. The petition challenged a disciplinary violation on constitutional grounds and claimed that the failure to expunge this violation from his record could affect his eligibility for parole. We conclude that because Nettles's claim does not fall within the "core of habeas corpus," Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487(1973), it must be brought, if at all, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Judge Ikuta wrote the opinion, joined in full by Judges Rawlinson, Clifton, Callahan, and Randy Smith.  Judge Hurwitz concurred in part.  Judge Berzon dissented, joined by Chief Judge Thomas and Judges Fletcher, Murguia, and Nguyen.

Q: Is America Overincarcerated?

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A:  Absolutely not.  The people who get sent to prison earn their way there, and keeping them segregated from civil society for longer terms has contributed significantly to the enormous (but now jeopardized) drop in crime over the last generation.

The Manhattan Institute spells it out with data as effectively as I have ever seen.  Its  tract begins:

It is not easy to land in an American prison. Most convicted felons never reach prison, and those who do are typically repeat offenders guilty of the most serious violent and property crimes. The system sends very few people to prison for simple drug possession. Drug-related convictions do not disproportionately harm the black community. To the contrary, if all drug offenders were released tomorrow, there would be no change in the black share of prisoners.

We do know, however, that putting the most dangerous criminals behind bars reduces victimization for crime-plagued communities. As the incarceration rate for violent felons has increased, crime rates have plunged, saving countless lives and improving public safety--especially in minority neighborhoods. California, which is experimenting with "deincarceration," is already seeing years of progress on public safety reversed in a matter of months.

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