Recently in Prisons Category

Killers and Rapists, Rejoice!

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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

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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?

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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?

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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

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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.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided Holt v. Hobbs, No. 13-6827, regarding a prisoner's right to have a religiously mandated beard under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).  The Court decided unanimously that a 1/2 inch beard posed no threat to an institutional need that outweighed the prisoner's right to free exercise of religion.  The state had not articulated a good reason for not allowing it.

The result in this case doesn't bother me too much.  I am more concerned about the more extravagant applications of RLUIPA, such as the worshippers of Odin and their Annual Pork Feast.  No, I'm not making this up.

A Safer Country, Credibly Reported by the NYT

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I have not been shy about criticizing editorial stands in the New York Times, most recently its decision to label as "self-pitying" the NYPD's attitude of disgust with the dalliance between Mayor de Blasio and vitriolic enemies of the police, including but hardly limited to Al Sharpton.  The Times used the adjective "self-pitying" to describe the NYPD before the second murdered officer, Wenjian Liu, was even buried.  At that time and under those circumstances, I considered, and still consider, applying the label "self-pitying" to Liu's brothers on the force somewhere between callous and vile.

But credit must be given where due.  Yesterday, Erik Eckholm published a piece in that self-same NY Times noting that, with crime down so much over the last generation, some prominent people in both parties have started to think about reducing prison costs. Not surprisingly, the piece gives most of its attention to those who favor incarceration and sentencing reforms.  Still, when Mr. Eckholm spoke with me in preparing the story, I found him fair and patient, and he correctly quotes me in the article as saying, "When people are incarcerated, they're not out on the street to ransack your home or sell drugs to your high school kid."  I thought that was an apt quotation, summarizing the intuitive reason most people understand that more incarceration means less crime  -- something that has been reliably true for at least the last 50 years.

One quite useful item in the article is a sidebar graph showing the staggering crime decreases since the peak year, 1991.  It was, of course, the early Nineties when the determinate (and tougher) federal sentencing system of the Reagan era  --  copied in many states  --  started to kick in.  More criminals stayed in jail longer.

For those who want to believe that there's only an ineffably mysterious relationship between the amount of crime we get on the street and the number of criminals we take off the street  --  hey, go for it.  There is nothing I'll be able to do to change your mind.

To Live and Lie in L.A.

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How much jail time do you get for perjury and fraud in California today?  71 minutes.  Laura Rosenhall reports in the SacBee:

Former state Sen. Rod Wright turned himself in to Los Angeles County jail authorities Friday night to begin a 90-day sentence for his perjury and fraud conviction, but was released before ever seeing the inside of a cell.

Wright, a Democrat, turned himself in around 9:30 p.m. and was released at 10:41 p.m. after being processed and booked, said Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

She said he did not get any special treatment for being a politician.

Catch and Release

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Federal Judge Richard Kopf at Hercules and the Umpire has this post with a funny cartoon and a serious point.  Down in the comments, he concedes that the point is poorly worded in the original post and substitutes this wording:

My point is really two fold: (1) most of the folks I see should go to prison and most reasonable observers would agree; (2) in the few "close" cases where a judge must decide between prison and probation, I am not good at making that decision personally and [18 U.S.C.] section 3553(a) is not much help.
One of the strongest arguments for continuing to hang tough on imprisonment, and refusing to become unnerved by the racially-charged hectoring of the "Incarceration Nation" crowd, is easy to summarize:  Prison works.  When we have more prison, we have less crime. When we have less prison, we have more crime. It's not a whole lot more complex than that.

This was confirmed once again by statistics posted today on Sentencing Law and Policy, run by my friendly (if defense-leaning) adversary, Doug Berman.  Prof. Berman notes that newly released BJS statistics show that we had a modest decline in crime in 2013.  This is the first time in the last three years that crime went down; it went up in 2011 and 2012.

OK, quick now, what else happened in 2013?  Right you are:  For the first time in the last three years, going back to 2010, the prison population went up.

What an amazing coincidence!!!  But just how amazing is a story that needs to be told, lest we fall for the "smart" sentencing line.

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