Recently in Rehabilitation Category

While Barack Obama, surrounded with the world's best security detail, opens the prison gates to hundreds of dealers in hard drugs  --  dozens with firearms convictions as well  -- citizens living in less secure circumstances suffer.

Does his Administration care?

His US Attorney for the District of Columbia managed to yawn out this statement:

Unfortunately, no system is perfect, and in those isolated instances in which problems are identified, we work with our law enforcement partners to address them moving forward.

Excuse my Latin, but that is unadulterated horse manure.  He might as well have said, "What, me worry?"

The liberal police chief in DC recently resigned, in significant part because she had seen enough mindless leniency. 

The problem is not over-incarceration, despite the insistence of the pro-criminal crowd currently running DOJ.  The problem, which they would see under their noses if they cared enough to look, is the opposite.
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.   

Recidivism, with a Twist

When I discuss America's sky-high recidivism rate (49% for federal offenders and 77% for state offenders), I sometimes encounter the objection that not all criminals return to the crime for which they went to prison.  This is true.  Not infrequently, they branch out.  Hence today's story:

A Grand Rapids man released from prison last summer for a November 1998 murder pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal cocaine trafficking charge following his arrest in Southeast Grand Rapids with more than a pound of cocaine.

Keith Vonta Hopskin appeared in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids where he admitted to having at least a pound of cocaine he planned to distribute....

Hopskin told police he had been receiving several ounces of cocaine about two times a month since July, court records show. He was released from prison July 5 on a second-degree murder conviction.

The 38-year-old, who has a prior federal drug conviction, told investigators he paid $10,500 for the cocaine and was able to sell three ounces before police stepped in.

Now just to head off the coming furrowed brows, this is not an argument that we should send people to prison forever; the first principle of sentencing remains just punishment.  It is, however, an argument against the delusion that, when we release criminals, we can expect them to become productive members of society.  It is not impossible that that will happen, but the decided likelihood is, instead, that the Hopskin story happens.  We need to bear this in mind when we told how much society will "benefit" from shorter sentences.

Prop 47 is "broken at every level"

The City Attorney for Los Angeles is Mike Feuer.  The office he holds is non-partisan, but Feuer himself is an active, liberal Democrat, and a leader, with Cyrus Vance of Manhattan, of a group of prosecutors opposing what they call "gun violence."

The LA Downtown News reports on what Mr. Feuer has to say about Prop 47 eighteen months after it became effective:

When California voters approved Proposition 47 in November 2014, it marked a new era of crime and punishment in the state.

It also led to a system that, so far, has utterly failed, City Attorney Mike Feuer told a Downtown Los Angeles audience yesterday.

In the effort to reduce the state prison population, Prop. 47 downgraded a half dozen non-violent felonies, such as certain kinds of drug possession and petty theft, to misdemeanors, meaning offenders receive shorter sentences.


"Almost no one has gotten anything close to meaningful drug rehabilitation, and we've prosecuted thousands of these cases," Feuer said Monday at a luncheon at the Downtown Palm hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum. "The system is broken at every level."

The academics who pushed Prop 47 with a boatload of deceit about what it would do are still in denial, making it all the more refreshing to hear one official, and a quite liberal one, tell the truth.

Is Prison Criminogenic?

I've been debating for years the question whether prison is criminogenic, i.e., whether imprisonment increases crime.  Doug Berman, among others, has consistently said that prison is indeed criminogenic; I take the opposite view.  I think the evidence is overwhelming that imprisonment decreases crime.

One of the things I like about Doug is that he'll do something most other defense-inclined bloggers won't  -- post evidence contrary to his view.  He has done so again today in this entry (emphasis added):

Whether punishment promotes or deters future criminal activity by the convicted offender is a key public policy concern. Longer prison sentences further isolate offenders from the legitimate labor force and may promote the formation of criminal networks in prison.  On the other hand, greater initial punishment may have a deterrence effect on the individual being punished, sometimes called "specific deterrence," through learning or the rehabilitative effect of prison.

We test the effect of prison sentence length on recidivism by exploiting a unique quasi-experimental design from adult sentences within a courthouse in Seattle, Washington.  Offenders who plead guilty are randomly assigned to a sentencing judge, which leads to random differences in prison sentence length depending on the sentencing judge's proclivities. We find that one-month extra prison sentence reduces the rate of recidivism by about one percentage point, with possibly larger effects for those with limited criminal histories. However, the reduction in recidivism comes almost entirely in the first year of release, which we interpret as consistent with prison's rehabilitative role.

That's one item, but the argument that prison reduces crime is far more robust than that.

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.

The current issue of the Journal of Law and Economics has this article by Rasmus Landersø.  Here is the abstract:

This paper studies how longer incarceration spells affect offenders' labor market outcomes by using a reform that increased incarceration lengths by approximately 1 month. I use detailed register data for offenders who predominantly serve incarceration spells of 1-2 months. I analyze the sample for several years prior to and after incarceration and show that the reform led to an exogenous increase in incarceration lengths. I find that the longer incarceration spells result in lower unemployment rates and higher earnings, possibly because marginal increases in short incarceration spells improve conditions and incentives for rehabilitation, while the costs of jail related to these outcomes are unaffected. I show that the estimates are robust to different econometric specifications and further provide evidence that my results are not driven by changes in macroeconomic conditions.

I am skeptical about how that would generalize to different conditions, but it's an interesting result.

Rehab Flops

We are often told that alternatives to prison will do as well to protect us, will cost less, and will mark a step forward in our humanity.  Leading the list of alternatives is more "investment" in rehabilitation.

Only one thing.

An expert with the Heritage Foundation (which disagrees with me on sentencing reform), spills the beans.
...bear in mind Mr. Rehab himself, Jihadist-turned-poet (according to his gushing defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff), Ibrahim al-Rubaish.  As this story relates:

The United States government has put al Qaeda's Ibrahim al-Rubaish on a global terrorist list and offered a $5 million reward for information on his whereabouts. Once we knew his whereabouts -- Guantanamo Bay detention center. But in 2006, the U.S. released Rubaish to Saudi Arabia where he was to be "rehabilitated."

At the time, Rubaysh was a poster child for the terrorist detainee-sympathizing, anti-Gitmo crew. Marc Falkoff, a lawyer for detainees and editor of Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, included in his collection a poem by Rubaysh called "Ode to the Sea." In his introduction to the poetry collection Falkoff, described Rubaysh as follows:

Ibrahim al-Rubaish was teaching in Pakistan when he was arrested by mercenaries and sold to allied forces. A religious scholar who dislikes hostility and was once a candidate for a judgeship, Rubaish has a daughter, born just three months before he was captured, who is now five years old.

Gosh, you really have to wonder what our government was doing incarcerating a sweetie like that.  Indeed, one can only speculate whether Mr. Falkoff could hold himself together while describing such a saintly man.

Well, anyway, now that Ibrahim al-Rubaish has been "rehabilitated," he has returned to  --  guess what?  --  writing more poems plotting to murder Americans, as many as he can count heads to slice off.

Rehab is a great thing, I tell you.

Private Prisons and Recidivism

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Lots of interesting stuff in the weekend Wall Street Journal today.  The nonsubscriber links provided should be good for seven days.  The article most clearly on-topic is by Devlin Barrett on private prison companies and rehabilitation.

Damon Hininger, chief executive of Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America, said in an interview that government clients are increasingly concerned about the long-term costs of housing inmates and are pushing CCA and other private operators to save them money by reducing recidivism, the number of inmates who are released only to do a repeat turn in prison.

He plans to expand the company's prison rehabilitation programs, drug counseling and its prisoner re-entry work in cities around the country. It's a significant shift for CCA, which has built a profitable business from incarcerating people--nearly 70,000 inmates are currently housed in more than 60 facilities. The company is the fifth-largest correction system in the country, after only the federal government and the states of California, Florida and Texas.

"This is a watershed moment for our company and we hope it will be for our entire industry,'' Mr. Hininger said. "We are determined to prove that we can play a leadership role in reducing recidivism and that we have every incentive to do so. The interests of government, taxpayers, shareholders, and communities are aligned. We all just need to recognize that and commit to that.''
My reaction to stories like this is "yes, but..."

The Victims of "Smart Sentencing"

Over most of the past decade liberal groups, which originally opposed and have for years sought to eliminate the so-called  "harsh" habitual criminal sentencing policies adopted in the 80s and 90s, have launched collaborative efforts with libertarians and some Republicans to encourage alternative sentencing.  "Right on Crime","Smart on Crime" and "Smart Sentencing" advocates have been successful at changing policies in many parts of the country to reduce sentences for criminals categorized as non-violent, and placing them instead in community programs to help them become law-abiding members of society, with the promise of saving millions in state and federal prison costs.  At a time when crime rates are relatively low, and our European betters and Hollywood movie stars are constantly scolding America as the incarceration nation, the allure of an America where bright, dedicated government employees guide minor offenders off the criminal path is difficult for many to resist. 
Dan Walters had this post, with the above title, on the Sacramento Bee's Capital Alert blog last Friday:

Gov. Jerry Brown's "realignment" of criminal justice procedures, aimed at reducing overcrowding in state prisons by diverting more felons into local jails and probation, has not resulted in lower rates of new criminal activity among offenders, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes.

New offenses by those released from custody are known as "recidivism" and putting felons under local control was supposed to include more drug treatment and other programs to reduce their criminal activity.

However, the PPIC study concludes, "We find that the post-realignment period has not seen dramatic changes in arrests or convictions of released offenders. In the context of realignment's broad reforms to the corrections system, our findings suggest that offender behavior has not changed substantially."

"Overall arrest rates of released offenders are down slightly, with the proportion of those arrested within a year of release declining by two percentage points," the authors of the study, Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael, and Ryken Grattet, continue. "At the same time, the proportion of those arrested multiple times has increased noticeably, by about seven percentage points. These higher multiple arrest rates may reflect the substantial increase in the time that released offenders spend on the streets--a result of counties' limited jail capacity."

The PPIC study may provide new ammunition for the critics of realignment who contend that the state is solving its prison overcrowding problem under pressure from federal judges but in doing so is putting new burdens on local governments, particularly county jails, that result in more criminal activity.

The Wonders of Rehab

I have frequently posted about the joke called "rehab."  The unending story of Lindsay Lohan is a rehab lesson unto itself, see my posts here, here and here, among numerous others.  

"Rehab" is the defense bar's version of "sentencing."  Some judges buy it because they think the jails are overstuffed; some because they genuinely think the defendant could benefit; and many because they refuse to see reality, or prefer not to.

The latest rehab joke comes from Toronto's version of Hollywood silliness, Mayor Rob Ford. Like many in Hollywood, the Mayor likes his crack cocaine, and would like to convince his constituents that rehab is the answer.  And it is an answer, of sorts.

From USA Today:

Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he is in rehab and enjoying it..."Rehab is amazing," Ford told The Toronto Sun....He compared it to the Washington Redskins camp he went to as a boy.

Would readers please take up a collection so I can go to rehab, too?

BJS Study Tracks Recividism

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a study tracking the rearrest rate of 405,000 felons released from prison in 30 states.  The BJS press release is here.  The study examines ex-convicts released in 2005 who were rearrested for a new crimes over the next five years.  More than 57% of those released were rearrested in the first year.   By the third year 68% had been rearrested.  After five years 77% had been rearrested at least one time, with many rearrested more than once.  In total, ex-convicts released from prison in 2005 were rearrested 1.2 million times for new crimes.   Property criminals, including burglars, car thieves, and identity thieves were rearrested at the highest rate of 82%.  77% of drug offenders, typically drug dealers, were rearrested over the five year period.  Recividism was highest among blacks, followed by Hispanics and whites.  Age and sex were also major factors with 84% of those 24 or younger rearrested.  The rearrest rate dropped to 69% for those 40 or older.  78% of males were rearrested compared to 68% of females. 

There will be two varieties of spin put on this study.  The first and most publicized will come from "Smart on Crime" advocates, which includes the ACLU, the Urban Institute, the Sentencing Project and much of academia.  They will point to these findings as proof that fixed and progressively severe consequences for criminals, such as mandatory minimums and habitual criminal sentencing have failed to rehabilitate criminals.  We will be told that the current transition to alternative sentencing featuring "evidence based practices" and treatment programs will help to reform the current racially biased system, lower the recividism rate, improve  public safety, and remove the stigma on America as the "incarceration nation."  

Sasha Volokh has a couple of posts (here and here) at the Volokh Conspiracy on the question of whether faith-based prisons actually "work," i.e. produce a lower recidivism rate than the same prisoners would have had in regular prisons.  The difficulty in answering that question is the "selection bias" problem, as indicated by the title of the second post, "What if faith-based prison programs just attract better prisoners?"

"Evidence-based practices" has become a buzzword in corrections, but for the reasons Volokh points out, much of the "evidence" is nearly worthless.

After yesterday's introduction to the topic, today I'll talk about how the self-selection problem makes any evaluation of faith-based programs with regular programs problematic. I'll illustrate with some of the most problematic studies, which show the self-selection problem in its most naked form. I'll then show some of the better studies, which control for certain important variables, but I'll explain why even those are inadequate to solve the self-selection problem.
The problem is not by any means limited to faith-based programs.  It permeates the whole field.  As long as the "treatment group" and the "control group" are selected in a way that makes them different in their attitude toward going straight, the study is essentially garbage.  Random selection and large sample sizes are necessary to valid studies, but random selection is a tough sell.  Can we really assign people to rehabilitation programs in a lottery, denying the guy who wants it and assigning the one who doesn't give a damn?

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