Recently in Prisons Category

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.
The Yolo County D.A.'s Office recently launched a website that is designed to inform the public about "non-violent second strikers" who have been granted early release from state prison.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig stated that "Most citizens have no idea that serious criminals are being released from prison early under these new state programs.  Many of these individuals have very violent criminal histories and continue to pose a danger to our communities.  Our new website link is designed to inform the public and improve the transparency of the state's early release decisions."

A press release about California's early release problem and the new website is here.

Big thumbs up to District Attorney Reisig and the Yolo County D.A.'s Office!

Who Should Make Prison Policy?

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The saying about the inmates running the asylum used to be a joke.  

An Aggravated Assault On Death Row

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The primary reasons for punishing people who have committed serious offenses are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation.  Prison largely incapacitates, but not entirely, as this AP story reminds us.

Officials say a prison guard is recovering after he was attacked by a condemned inmate on California's death row.

They say 27-year-old Jesse Manzo assaulted the San Quentin State Prison correctional officer Thursday evening as he was being escorted back to his cell after taking a shower.

Manzo slipped his wrist out of an open handcuff and used the handcuff to hit the officer several times.

Officials said Friday that the officer was taken to an outside hospital for treatment of cuts including a significant facial injury.

Manzo has been on death row since 2013.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in Riverside County for the 2008 gang-related hate crime killing of Raymond Franklin.
Given that he has only been on death row three years, this is not a case where we can say he should have been executed already.  Even so, this is a reminder that he will be a danger from now until he is executed.  If the repeal initiative passes, he will be a danger from now until he dies of other causes, which may be a very long time.
Yesterday the John and Ken Show, the leading talk radio show in the L.A. area, had this segment on Gov. Jerry Brown's Jailbreak Initiative with yours truly.
Ben Mathis-Lilley reports for Slate:

Unrepentant mass killer Anders Breivik's isolated confinement in a three-room prison suite furnished with a treadmill, a refrigerator, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation, a desk, a television, and a radio constitutes "inhuman or degrading treatment" under the European Convention on Human Rights, an Oslo court has ruled. The court instructed Norwegian authorities in nonspecific terms to relax the restrictions imposed on Breivik and ordered the government to pay his legal fees, which total about $50,000.
Some people argue that we should emulate Europe in our treatment of criminals.  In my view, Europe is a contrarian indicator.  If Europe does X, that makes X somewhat more likely to be a bad idea.

Thanks for the tip to our frequent commenter "notablogger," who notes, "I wish this were a story in the Onion.  Alas, it is not."

The Myth of Mass Incarceration

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Last month I noted Barry Latzer's WSJ op-ed, the Myth of Mass Incarceration.  The ACLU sent in a letter to the editor criticizing the article, and today Latzer has this response.

It seems the ACLU made the common error of citing federal prison statistics to support an argument about incarceration in the nation generally.  As Latzer points out, federal prisons are only 13% of the total and not at all representative.

What Are Prisoners Really In For?

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A pervasive myth in America today, one that we have denounced many times on this blog, is that our prisons are full of harmless people locked up for minor offenses who can be released with no danger to the public.

Hard data are hard to come by, especially at the state level.  The information available is often aggregated into broad categories that make it very difficult to present the truth clearly.  We know anecdotally that overall prosecutors are only seeking prison sentences and judges are only imposing them in cases where they are genuinely deserved, with exceptions being rare.  Still, the myth has a firm hold and has fooled people who should know better.

CJLF has recently obtained data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that tallies up the state prisoner population by offense of commitment at the detailed level.  Marissa Cohen, our Public Policy Director, has put the data into charts.  The pie chart is to the left, and the bar chart is after the break.  Click on the chart for a larger version.

On the pie chart, start at 12 o'clock and go clockwise.  Homicide, robbery, assault, sex crimes, and kidnapping bring us all the way to 9 o'clock.  Three-quarters of state prisoners are in for crimes of violence.  Add in burglary of homes, and we are up to 10 o'clock -- five-sixths.  Burglary of a home is a crime of psychological violence.  The harm it inflicts goes far beyond the monetary damage from forced entry and theft.  The drug offenders are mostly in for trafficking, not possession for personal use.

Jailbreak: A Love Story?

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The search is over.  Three California inmates who managed to escape a Santa Ana jail are back in custody.  The prison teacher arrested last Thursday for allegedly aiding in their escape, however, is being released due to insufficient evidence, for now at least.

Since the daring January 22 escape, word has circulated that the English-as-a-second-language teacher, Nooshafarin Ravaghi, and one of the escapees, Hossein Nayeri, had a relationship that was "close" and "personal," highly atypical for a prison teacher and an inmate, not to mention inappropriate and completely banned.  It is believed that Ravaghi provided Nayeri and two other inmates, Bac Duong and Jonathan Tieu, with a printed photograph from Google Earth to help them escape from the maximum-security facility.  Authorities believe she may have helped them on the outside as well.

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