Category: reentry

Prisoners of Parole

By , January 10, 2010 9:40 am

IN 2004, STEVEN ALM, a state trial judge in Hawaii, was frustrated with the cases on his docket. Nearly half of the people appearing before him were convicted offenders with drug problems who had been sentenced to probation rather than prison and then repeatedly violated the terms of that probation by missing appointments or testing positive for drugs. Whether out of neglect or leniency, probation officers would tend to overlook a probationer’s first 5 or 10 violations, giving the offender the impression that he could ignore the rules. But eventually, the officers would get fed up and recommend that Alm revoke probation and send the offender to jail to serve out his sentence. That struck Alm as too harsh, but the alternative — winking at probation violations — struck him as too soft. “I thought, This is crazy, this is a crazy way to change people’s behavior,” he told me recently.

So Alm decided to try something different. He reasoned that if the offenders knew that a probation violation would lead immediately to some certain punishment, they might shape up. “I thought, What did I do when my son was young?” he recalled. “If he misbehaved, I talked to him and warned him, and if he disregarded the warning, I gave him some kind of consequence right away.” Working with U.S. marshals and local police, Alm arranged for a new procedure: if offenders tested positive for drugs or missed an appointment, they would be arrested within hours and most would have a hearing within 72 hours. Those who were found to have violated probation would be quickly sentenced to a short jail term proportionate to the severity of the violation — typically a few days.

Alm mentioned his plan to the public defender, who suggested that it was only fair to warn probationers that the rules were going to be strictly enforced for the first time. Alm agreed, and on Oct. 1, 2004, he held a hearing for 18 sex offenders, followed by another one for 16 drug offenders. Brandishing a laminated “Wanted” poster, he told them: “I can guarantee that everyone in this courtroom wants you to succeed on probation, but you have not been cutting it. From now on, you’re going to follow all the rules of probation, and if you don’t, you’re going to be arrested on the spot and spend some time in jail right away.” He called the program HOPE, for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation With Enforcement, and prepared himself for a flood of violation hearings.

But they never materialized. There were only three hearings in the first week, two in the second week and none in the third. The HOPE program was so successful that it inspired scholars to evaluate its methods. Within a six-month period, the rate of positive drug tests fell by 93 percent for HOPE probationers, compared with a fall of 14 percent for probationers in a comparison group.

via Prisoners of Parole –

Criminal justice: Tough on crime? Check. Smart on crime? Not so much.

By , January 3, 2010 7:36 pm
Image by armigeress via Flickr

We’re Texas and we’re famously tough on crime. So how come we still have so much of it?

Numbers from recent years show Texas near the top in adults on probation or parole, prisoners in state correctional institutions, inmates under 18 in state prisons and (here's the punch line) crimes per capita.

Somehow, somewhere, we have been doing something wrong. And that adds up to an unsatisfactory return on what will be a $10.8 billion investment in public safety and criminal justice in the state’s 2010-2011 budget.

That’s almost 10 percent of state tax dollars. By comparison, 6.7 percent goes to business and economic development and 1.2 percent goes to natural resources.

The reality is that crime stats, more than being a measure of our success in fighting crime, are a measure of our failure in so many other areas.

via Criminal justice: Tough on crime? Check. Smart on crime? Not so much..

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From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex

By , December 20, 2009 9:23 am

In the 1950s and through the 1960s and 70s, you had a huge number of revolutions going on. Colonized peoples were kicking the French out of Algeria, the U.S. out of Vietnam, and so forth, all over the world. Here at home, there were also the beginnings of a revolution: everything from the civil rights movement to the anti-war movement to groups like the Black Panthers getting together and saying “we’re not going to take this any more.” People around the world were trying to liberate themselves from the institutions of colonialism, racism, and capitalist oppression. In my view, the origins of the modern PIC emerge out of the contexts of those struggles. More specifically, I think that the origins of the modern PIC are in what we might call the counter-revolution: the reaction to these struggles.

I find it hard to accept arguments that suggest a lot of guys woke up one morning and said “hey, I have an idea, let’s be mean to black people,” and got all their friends on the phone and went into a smoke-filled room and got busy. And that black people were just walking around minding their own business and then all of the sudden they got snapped up in the dragnet. Especially because, the morning before, these guys were already being mean to black people.

I like to think about it this way: in the 1950s and 60s, there really were people struggling on radical and reformist fronts, struggling for example to get rid of American apartheid. People were fighting really, really, hard and dying a lot in this struggle. The problem that the U.S. faced was that even though they could demonize this or that little group, there was enough of a positive response to anti-racist or anti-colonialist struggle that the state couldn’t really contain it. They really didn’t know where it was going to go. There really was disorder in the streets – and not all of it was following a political agenda, not all of it was fleshed-out in many years of study groups. Some of it was spontaneous and erratic and some of it was spontaneous and really great. And so the state’s response was “what do we have? We lost Jim Crow. Culturally, we still have racism, so we don’t have to worry about it too much, but legally Jim Crow is no longer a weapon. What do we have left in the arsenal? Well, we have all the lawmaking that we can do. And we do have the cultural idea that there’s something wrong with ‘those people’: the colonized or the victims of apartheid.” During this time, we saw the conversation around race change from “they’re just not smart enough” to “they’re not honest enough.” “Crime” became the all-purpose explanation for the struggles and disorder that were going on.

via Recording Carceral Landscapes.

More Job Seekers Scramble To Erase Their Criminal Past

By , November 13, 2009 9:35 am

U.S. job seekers are crashing into the worst employment market in years and background checks that reach deeper than ever into their pasts.

The result: a surge of people seeking to legally clear their criminal records.

In Michigan, state police estimate they’ll set aside 46% more convictions this year than last. Oregon is on track to set aside 33% more. Florida sealed and expunged nearly 15,000 criminal records in the fiscal year ended June 30, up 43% from the previous year. The courts of Cook County, which includes Chicago and nearby suburbs, received about 7,600 expungement requests in the year’s first three quarters, nearly double the pace from the year before.

via More Job Seekers Scramble To Erase Their Criminal Past –

Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers

By , October 27, 2009 6:45 pm

This action plan reviews both federal and state barriers to identifying and serving children of incarcerated parents, and offers policy recommendations for the U.S. Congress and the Administration. The action plan is designed to help federal leaders improve policies for children of incarcerated parents, but also includes recommendations of value to states and local governments that can facilitate and complement federal initiatives and result in better responses to this population.

via Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers.

As rehab programs are cut, prisons do less to keep inmates from returning

By , October 17, 2009 7:44 pm
Schools Not Jails
Image by aclu.socal via Flickr


As rehab programs are cut, prisons do less to keep inmates from returning

Reporting from Sacramento – Gina Tatum spends her days in a compound surrounded by electrified fence in the sun-baked heart of the Central Valley, hoping to change her life.

She will soon turn 50, and after two decades in and out of prison, she says she is tired of victimizing others, tired of stealing, tired of doing drugs.

“I can’t afford any more years up here — I’ve lost too many,” said Tatum, who is serving a four-year stint for forgery at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. “I’m trying to learn things to change my thinking, change everything about me, so I can go home. It’s so easy to get caught up here and never leave. I don’t want to die in prison.”

But because of cuts in the state budget, Tatum and thousands of other inmates and parolees in California are about to lose access to many of the programs the prison system has offered to help them turn their lives around.

via As rehab programs are cut, prisons do less to keep inmates from returning —

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SSRN-Jeremy Bentham

By , September 27, 2009 10:38 am

Jeremy Bentham is associated in criminology with his invention of the ‘Panopticon.’ In many ways this appeared as the quintessential disciplinary institution, training subjects to be ‘docile’ and obedient. Yet Bentham’s classical criminology also stressed that actors are rational choice optimisers, and are to be seen as inventive and enterprising rather than servile and mindless. In part, the overemphasis on the Panopticon leads modern criminologists ignore this side of his thinking and to see Bentham as narrowly punitive and disciplinary. But in his later years he turned toward ‘pecuniary sanctions’, fines and damages, that he regarded as the optimal liberal sanction. Bentham outlined many of the advantages of monetary justice, and advocated their use in relation to almost every crime, in place of the more usual punishments. This chapter suggests a need to reconsider the contribution of Bentham to criminology and penology in terms of such later works and ideas rather than his advocacy of the Panopticon alone.

via SSRN-Jeremy Bentham by Pat O’Malley.

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