Category: courts

Aging inmates straining prison systems

By , August 17, 2010 11:53 am

Connell, Wash. — Curtis Ballard rides a motorized wheelchair around his prison ward, which happens to be the new assisted living unit — a place of many windows and no visible steel bars — at Washington’s Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.

A stroke left Ballard unable to walk. He’s also had a heart attack and he underwent a procedure to remove skin cancer from his neck. At 77, he’s been in prison since 1993 for murder. He has 14 years left on his sentence.

Ballard is among the national surge in elderly inmates whose medical expenses are straining cash-strapped states and have officials looking for solutions, including early release, some possibly to nursing homes. Ballard says he’s fine where he is.

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“I’d be a burden on my kids,” said the native Texan. “I’d rather be a burden to these people.”

That burden is becoming greater as the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that elderly prisoners — the fastest growing segment of the prison population, largely because of tough sentencing laws — are three times more expensive to incarcerate than younger inmates.

The ACLU estimates that it costs about $72,000 to house an elderly inmate for a year, compared to $24,000 for a younger prisoner.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of men and women in state and federal prisons age 55 and older grew 76 percent between 1999 and 2008, the latest year available, from 43,300 to 76,400. The growth of the entire prison population grew only 18 percent in that period.

“We’re reaping the fruits of bad public policy like Three Strikes laws and other mandatory minimum sentencing laws,” said David C. Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, D.C. “One in 11 prisoners is serving a life sentence.”

via Aging inmates straining prison systems | detnews.com | The Detroit News.

From Incredible to Inevitable: How the Politics of Criminal Justice Reform May Be Shifting

By , August 4, 2010 5:37 pm

Yesterday, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. Though this new law retains an unjustifiable federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, it is a remarkable criminal justice reform measure. Ten years ago, advocates working to repeal the notorious 100-to-1 sentencing disparity were thought of as naïve. Yet 2010 saw a bipartisan bill aimed at reforming a mandatory minimum actually get through Congress and receive the president’s signature for the first time since the Nixon administration. Yesterday’s passage of the Fair Sentencing Act is one of several recent developments signaling that the political landscape of criminal justice reform truly has shifted — perhaps not seismically, but significantly. The opportunity to cut and reform our bloated, inefficient system is now.

via Vanita Gupta: From Incredible to Inevitable: How the Politics of Criminal Justice Reform May Be Shifting.

Alternatives to Incarceration Can Save Millions for Cash-Strapped States

By , June 22, 2010 6:54 pm

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, in 2008 the U.S. puts one out of every 48 working-age men behind bars and spent $75 billion on corrections, the majority of which was spent on incarceration. To make matters worse, a new study released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that the $40 billion jump in state spending on corrections between 1988 and 2008 outpaced nearly every other state budget item, painting a bleak picture of incarceration in the U.S. and the resulting budgetary strain on the states.

As this Dispatch will outline, U.S. incarceration rates have far outpaced the growth in the population because inflexible policies from “truth in sentencing” to mandatory minimum laws have meant non-violent offenses crowd prisons without probation and parole being used to end the budgetary costs of keeping all of them in prison.

Partly due to recognition that filling prisons with non-violent offenders is a waste of human potential and partly because of the current budget crisis, states are beginning to reform their prison and sentencing policies to reduce bloated incarceration rates. Some states are engaging in emergency cuts in prison populations while others are more systematically cutting back or eliminating entirely the mandatory minimum and other rigid sentencing rules that fill prisons in the first place.

States are also directing some of the funds that will be saved from lower incarceration rates to helping ex-felons integrate back into the communities which they will be returning after prison. Such reentry programs recognize that investing in communities can replace the costs of incarceration with jobs and productive activity that actually generate economic development, tax revenues and a safer environment for all residents.

via Alternatives to Incarceration Can Save Millions for Cash-Strapped States | Progressive States Network.

The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration

By , June 10, 2010 8:48 pm

The United States currently incarcerates a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. We calculate that a reduction in incarceration rates just to the level we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards) would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year, with the large majority of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion.

These cost savings could be realized through a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of exclusively non-violent offenders, who now make up over 60 percent of the prison and jail population.

via The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration.

States closing youth prisons

By , June 7, 2010 12:41 pm
Razor wire, detail
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After struggling for years to treat young criminals in razor wire-ringed institutions, states across the country are quietly shuttering dozens of reformatories amid plunging juvenile arrests, softer treatment policies and bleak budgets.

In Ohio, the number of juvenile offenders has plummeted by nearly half over the past two years, pushing the state to close three facilities. California’s closures include a youth institution near Los Angeles that operated for nearly 115 years. And one in Texas will finally go quiet after getting its start as a World War II-era training base.

The closures have juvenile advocates cheering.

“I can tell you it’s the best thing they can do,” said Aaron Kupchik, a University of Delaware criminologist. “Incarceration does nobody any good. You’re taking away most of their chance for normal development.”

via States closing youth prisons – Salt Lake Tribune.

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Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries

By , June 2, 2010 12:12 pm

In late April in a courthouse in Madison County, Ala., a prosecutor was asked to explain why he had struck 11 of 14 black potential jurors in a capital murder case.

The district attorney, Robert Broussard, said one had seemed “arrogant” and “pretty vocal.” In another woman, he said he “detected hostility.”

Mr. Broussard also questioned the “sophistication” of a former Army sergeant, a forklift operator with three years of college, a cafeteria manager, an assembly-line worker and a retired Department of Defense program analyst.

The analyst, he said, “did not appear to be sophisticated to us in her questionnaire, in that she spelled Wal-Mart, as one of her previous employers, as Wal-marts.”

Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.

via Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries – NYTimes.com.

Death penalty cases dwindle

By , May 3, 2010 6:48 pm

When a Wake County jury decided late last month to spare the life of a man that prosecutors described as a “monster” and “cold-blooded serial killer,” death penalty opponents quietly hugged one another.

Samuel J. Cooper, 33, whom defense attorneys had portrayed as mentally scarred from years of physical and emotional abuse, would not join the 157 inmates on North Carolina’s death row. The killer, convicted by the same jury of five first-degree murders, would spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.

The sentence was a sign of changing times in North Carolina, one of 35 states where capital punishment is allowed – but used less and less frequently.

“You look at that case as a prosecutor and say, “If you can’t get the death penalty in that case, gee, what case are you going to get the death penalty in?”" said Jim Woodall, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham counties who also serves as president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. “More and more, the climate is against trying capital cases; therefore, you have to have almost a perfect trial for it to be upheld.”

via Death penalty cases dwindle – Crime/Safety – NewsObserver.com.

Is There a Better Way to Spend Anti-Crime $$$?

By , April 14, 2010 3:40 pm

Several states have embraced ‘justice reinvestment’ as a way of reducing prison populations. But it still causes jitters among many legislators.

With most American prison cells full and state budgets hurting, “justice reinvestment” seems like an attractive concept. Why not spend taxpayer dollars on rehabilitation programs that may break the cycle of re-imprisonment instead of on expensive housing for criminals behind bars?

Indeed, the reinvestment idea has made good headway. A dozen states have adopted or at least are seriously considering its principles. A bill is making its way through Congress that would provide more federal funding to test it in other states.

The idea started in 2003 in Connecticut, where state leaders were disturbed about being asked to spend increasing sums on prison building and maintenance while many released inmates committed new crimes. “They wanted to know what taxpayers were paying and what they were getting for it,” says Marshall Clement of the Council of State Governments CSG Justice Center, which provides states with advice on governance and has been a leader in promoting the justice reinvestment concept.

via The Crime Report » Archive » Is There a Better Way to Spend Anti-Crime $$$?.

Rethinking Sex Offender Laws for Youths Showing Off Online

By , March 22, 2010 9:22 pm
Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reacti...
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In Iowa, Jorge Canal is on the sex offenders registry because, at age 18, he was convicted of distributing obscene materials to a minor after he sent a picture of his penis by cellphone to a 14-year-old female friend who had requested it.

In Florida, Phillip Alpert, then 18, was charged with distributing child pornography and put on the sex offenders registry because after a fight, he sent a photograph of his nude 16-year-old girlfriend by e-mail to dozens of people, including her parents.

In most states, teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit photographs by cellphone or computer — known as “sexting” — have risked felony child pornography charges and being listed on a sex offender registry for decades to come.

But there is growing consensus among lawyers and legislators that the child pornography laws are too blunt an instrument to deal with an adolescent cyberculture in which all kinds of sexual pictures circulate on sites like MySpace and Facebook.

via Rethinking Sex Offender Laws for Youths Showing Off Online – NYTimes.com.

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New York Case Faults Public Defender Programs

By , March 16, 2010 3:14 pm
United States criminal justice system flowchart.
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A class-action suit to be argued next week in New York’s highest court has become a test of a national strategy by civil liberties groups to challenge what they say are failed public defender programs in many states.

Because an estimated 80 percent of felony defendants in large states are too poor to hire their own lawyers, and because the case is being watched around the nation, the case has the potential to alter the shape of the criminal justice system.

Filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the lawsuit is a broad challenge to a patchwork system that has been described by decades of studies and commissions as dysfunctional, underfinanced and “in crisis,” with often poorly trained and poorly supervised lawyers handling huge caseloads. It says indigent clients have been failed by their appointed lawyers all around the state.

via New York Case Faults Public Defender Programs – NYTimes.com.

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