Recently in Probation and Parole Category

Liz Gonzalez has this story for Fox 26 in Fresno, California. "Fresno Police say a crackdown on crime in the new year is paying off.  Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Monday violent crime is down 15.2%."  But there is a problem, and the problem is Proposition 57.

Voters passed the measure in November of 2016, allowing for the release of inmates who committed so-called "non-violent" offenses.

"We have a weak legislature, weak governor who has allowed these laws to be passed. And we have an uninformed voter population in California that has also supported some very weak laws," Dyer said. "It has made the job of a police officer that much more difficult."

So far, the California Parole board has granted early release to 25 inmates from Fresno County under Proposition 57.

Many more releases are expected.

"They are dangerous and violent, despite propaganda from Sacramento and our Governor and this is the result," says Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

"Anytime you combine criminal justice reform with saving money, you're costing lives," says Dyer.

The "uninformed voter population" on Propositions 47 and 57 was the result of a combination of a large imbalance in campaign funding with the press being almost uniformly on the side with more money.  In that situation, a great many voters simply never hear the other side of the argument.

This story also illustrates why proving cause and effect is so difficult in crime research.  You can't control the variables.  A crime-increasing policy like Proposition 57 may go into effect at the same time that crime-reducing efforts such as the Fresno Police gang crackdown are going on.

Recidivism Algorithm

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Julia Dressel and Hany Farid have this research article in Science Advances.  Here is the abstract:

Algorithms for predicting recidivism are commonly used to assess a criminal defendant's likelihood of committing a crime. These predictions are used in pretrial, parole, and sentencing decisions. Proponents of these systems argue that big data and advanced machine learning make these analyses more accurate and less biased than humans. We show, however, that the widely used commercial risk assessment software COMPAS is no more accurate or fair than predictions made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise. We further show that a simple linear predictor provided with only two features is nearly equivalent to COMPAS with its 137 features.
Along with questions of whether they are really any better, I believe that government should not be making decisions about people's lives using proprietary algorithms whose makers refuse to disclose the inner workings.

The article is Julia Dressel and Hany Farid, The accuracy, fairness, and limits of predicting recidivism, Science Advances  17 Jan 2018: Vol. 4, no. 1, eaao5580; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao5580
Michele Hanisee has this post for the L.A. Association of Deputy District Attorneys with the above title.

As Governor Brown enters his final years in office, legislation he has proposed, signed and vetoed in the past year make it crystal clear he wants convicted criminals to serve as little time as possible. Three changes in the criminal justice system illustrate his beliefs.
The post discusses Proposition 57, which we have discussed on this blog, SB 620, watering down the punishment for criminals who use a gun, and the Governor's veto of AB 1408, a bill that would have somewhat mitigated the harm caused by the ill-advised Realignment bill of several years ago, AB 109.

Governor Brown has in the past claimed that he seeks to make the criminal justice "more human, more just, and more cost-effective."  It appears the Governor is eagerly pursuing the "cost-effective" portion of his statement by reducing punishment for crime in every way possible. But it will be victims who pay the price.
Wildfires have long been a huge problem in California.  They destroy forests, they destroy homes and businesses, and they kill people.  Some fires occur naturally.  Some are caused accidentally by people, who may or may not have been negligent.  And some are set on purpose.  Arson is therefore a major crime.

Pablo Lopez reports for the Fresno Bee:

A 70-year-old Squaw Valley man who told authorities he lit a string of wildland fires in east Fresno County for "no reason" was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in prison.

Michael Wayne Hamilton Sr. was initially charged with 30 counts of arson for setting fires over a three year period that started in May 2012 and ended with his arrest in May 2015. But in a plea agreement in August this year, he pleaded no contest to 10 felony arson charges.

Eighteen years is a long sentence for a 70-year-old, right?  He is unlikely to see the outside of the prison wall again, right?

Read more here:
Two well-known physicians were brutally murdered in Boston Friday night.  The killer should not have been on the streets.  He had a record, and a felony conviction on  -- ready now?  --  September 30, 2016.  That would be a little more than seven months ago. Nor was that his first serious crime.  Still, in the land of second chances, and what with our scandalously racist criminal justice system, we need to emphasize redemption, right? See, e.g., this self-righteous piece in the Atlantic, published, in a masterpiece of bad timing, 48 hours before the Boston murders:

The notion were hear all around is that dumbed-down sentencing is our mission in order to become a better people.  What it's actually going to do is make us a deader people. The prison population has been falling recently and, my goodness, we are now in the third year of our spike in violent crime, murder in particular.

The intentionally deceitful myth that we can be "just as safe" with many fewer criminals in prison has a price.  When the price is paid by little black children, like the ones Wendell Callahan sliced to death after he got early release, no one cares (although they occasionally pretend to).  They won't care about this atrocity either, although they might make a similar pretense. It's not that they're racists, although they know full well that murder disproportionately harms the black community.  It's that their ideology of criminal-as-victim trumps even their ideology, heard relentlessly in other contexts, of America-as-cesspool.

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.

Fatal Compassion

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.

Felons, Weapons, and Knowledge

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When a convicted felon is not allowed to possess a firearm, what knowledge must be established to prove a violation?  The California Supreme Court addressed that issue today in the context of probation violations in People v. Hall, S227193.  U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has dissented in favor of the defendant on a related issue.

In the California case, drug dealer LaQuincy Hall was given probation upon the condition, among others, that he "may not own, possess or have in [his] custody or control any handgun, rifle, shotgun or any firearm whatsoever or any weapon that can be concealed on [his] person."

Although he made no objection in the trial court, Hall claimed on appeal that the condition needed to be modified to prohibit only "knowing" possession.

Given the relevant case law, the firearms condition is properly construed as prohibiting defendant from knowingly owning, possessing, or having in his custody or control any handgun, rifle, shotgun, firearm, or any weapon that can be concealed on his person....  Because no change to the substance of either condition would be wrought by adding the word "knowingly," we decline defendant's invitation to modify those conditions simply to make explicit what the law already makes implicit.  A trial court, however, remains free to specify the requisite mens rea explicitly when imposing a condition of probation.
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!

A Second Chance to Do What?

Sentencing "reform" advocates insist that we should go lighter on sentencing in the name of the distinctly American virtue of "giving people a second chance."

The phrase itself reveals the confusion posing as thought that lies behind this movement.  A person has a "second chance" whether his sentence is 78 months or 96 months.  He has a "second chance" whether it's 16 years or 18 years.  The question in either case is not whether he'll get a "second chance" under sentencing reform he would otherwise miss; the question is what he does with it, reform or not.

This story gives part of the answer.  When I read it, I asked the same question I frequently do:  When early release goes wrong, as it so often does, who pays the price?  The sentencing reform crowd at their posh, self-congratulatory, "we-are-so-humane" parties in Manhattan and Hollywood, or the next unsuspecting victim they helped set up?

A convicted murderer in Michigan, who was paroled early for good behavior after serving 19 years in jail, reportedly killed again less than one year after his release.

Malcolm B. Benson, 50, was serving a 20- to 40-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal he made in 1995, MLive reports. He was initially charged with first-degree murder but the plea deal reduced the charge to second-degree murder. He was also found guilty of felony use of a firearm, which added an additional two years to his sentence.

Benson was paroled on Jan. 13, 2015, after spending just over 19 years of his minimum 22-year sentence in prison.

Like Wendell Callahan's victims, Benson's victim would be alive today if he had been required to serve even the minimum of his term.

America's Under-Incarceration Problem

The pro-criminal narrative being pushed by such luminaries as Al Sharpton, George Soros and Sen. Mike Lee lectures us that America has too many people in prison for too long.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline begs to differ:  In more than a few cases, we don't have them in for long enough.

I've argued that America has an under-incarceration problem. Criminals whose records clearly show they should be in jail have, instead, been released and are on the streets committing violent crimes, including some very bloody, high-profile ones.

Here's another example. Samuel Harviley, paroled from prison less than three months ago, is being held without bond for shooting an off-duty Chicago police officer outside his home earlier this week. In withholding bond, the local judge said that Harviley "poses an extreme danger to the rest of us out in public."

Indeed, he does. And he did three months ago when he was released early from jail.

Harviley was paroled from state prison on New Year's Eve after serving four years of a nine-year sentence for a 2011 carjacking, an inherently dangerous crime. A nine year sentence is meaningless if it can be completed in four. Harviley's early release always posed a danger to the community. Now, it has resulted in the shooting of a police officer.

But hey, look, as the anonymous Republican Senate aide said, we can't get everything right.  Boys will be boys!  If police officers get shot, there's really nothing to see, folks.  Move along.
A hotly debated topic in sentencing "reform" is how to deal with recidivism.

My view has been to prevent it for as long as possible by refusing to shorten legal sentences, thus taking advantage of the incapacitating effects of incarceration.  But, I must now confess, sentencing "reformers" have found a more ingenious method: Simply don't count it.  

If there's an uptick in crime, it inevitably gets passed off as "modest" or "moderate," or by some other dismissive word, as Kent, Mike and I have previously noted.  There is a reason for this beyond merely a pro-criminal agenda abetted by statistical sleight-of-hand.  The reason is that the increase in crime tends not to affect the well-paid and comfortable people in charge. When it happens merely to minorities and Trailer Park Trash  --  well, hey, look, those people don't count that much.

Hence today's story from one bastion of "reform" (and "legalized" pot, while we're at it).  The Denver Post asks, "Colorado Reduces Prison Population, but at What Cost to Public Safety?"

Mass Early Release Is Just the First Step

Most of the time when we're urged to reduce prison sentences, we're earnestly told that a good chunk of the money we'd supposedly save will be "invested" in more careful and active supervised release.  Probation, which is both cheaper and more humane than incarceration  --  so the argument goes  --  will be expanded to help insure we maintain public safety.

Did you think that's actually what sentencing "reformers" are planning?

Think again.  A sample:

This Data Brief demonstrates for the first time that America suffers from "mass probation" in addition to "mass incarceration." Although probation has often been thought of as an "alternative" to prison or jail sentences, the U.S. has achieved exceptional levels of punitiveness in both incarceration and community supervision...

[S]tates should closely reexamine the numbers of people who are placed on probation each year, and the lengths of terms they are required to serve. Options for "early termination" of the lowest-risk and most successful probationers should be explored. Some experts in the field allege that probationary sentences do little to control crime, and frequently do more harm than good.

The plan is not to end "mass incarceration."  The plan is to end punishment.  For years, these people have been telling us that the criminal is the victim, and the problem is not crime, but Amerika's callousness and cruelty.  It's time for us to understand they mean what they say.
A little less than two years ago, now-18 year-old Ethan Couch was sentenced for an automobile collision he caused two years before, in which he killed four people.  Four homicides might lead one to think at least a little jail time was in the offing, but what with "restorative justice" and a nifty psychologist's report, jail time was not to be. Instead, as the Washington Post reports:

Couch was sentenced to a drug-and-alcohol-free probation...; a psychologist and the teen's lawyers argued in his defense that the then-16-year-old's reckless behavior was a result of "affluenza."

I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the hired "psychologist" and the defense lawyer came up with that one.  I could be drunk and stoned and contemplating for ten years and still not have ginned up "affluenza" (a "syndrome" created by wealthy parents who fail to enforce discipline).  But I have never been a match for the creativity of the defense bar and its experts.

Anyway, this week brings us the news that, in the course of the sobered-up life his alleged "probation" was supposed to bring him, Mr. Couch took off for the super-plush resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  This was after a home video surfaced of his playing a rugged game of beer pong.  He and his mother, who was evidently financing this study in responsible living while staying with him, have now been taken into custody.

Lots of lessons here, but I'll settle for just two:  First, letting a defense shrink tell the tale at sentencing isn't that good an idea; and second, a much better idea would be sharply cabining the discretion of judges so that, no matter how foolish or naive or (in some cases) bought-off they are, serious crimes will get serious sentences. There is no reason we should live with this sort of song-and-dance travesty of justice.

There is much controversy today about sentencing murderers to life in prison without possibility of parole (LWOP).  The Supreme Court's decision in Roper v. Simmons -- permanently taking the death penalty off the table for under-18 murderers -- was still warm out of the laser printer when the drive to ban LWOP for them shifted into high gear.

Why not hold out a possibility of parole?  A sentence of life with parole for a killer often means a life sentence to opposing parole for the murder victim's family.  I have represented victims' families in a number of cases.  (See, e.g., this brief.)  In each case, they have been intensely interested in seeing the killer receive the full punishment he was sentenced to, whether that be death or truly spending the rest of his life in prison.

Now the Daily Beast has an interview with a particularly famous survivor, Yoko Ono:

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