December 1st, 2013
Despite their geographical proximity and economic and cultural similarities, the states of the Midwest have had very different rates of violent crime over the past five decades. Moreover, through periods of dramatic increases and decreases in violent crime, the relative positions of the states have remained fairly stable. The low-violence states in 1960 remain at the low end today, while the high-violence states in 1960 remain at the high end today. However, the gap between the high states and low states has been slowly diminishing for many years. In another decade, the state that has historically had the highest rate of violence, Illinois, may conceivably fall to about the same level as the state that has historically had the lowest, Iowa.
Readers of this Blog may know that I have previously written a series of posts on crime and punishment in three midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (e.g., here and here). With this post, I begin a new series that will explore regional trends more broadly. With violent crime such a staple of local news coverage, I think it’s helpful to be able to place the crime du jour within a wider spatial and temporal context; perhaps this bigger-picture view may lessen the tendency to adopt hastily conceived policy responses to whatever happens to be the latest outrage.
Here are the rates of reported violent crime (per 100,000 residents) in the midwestern states and the U.S. as a whole since 1960: Read the rest of this entry »
November 17th, 2013
Last week, I spoke on truth in sentencing at Marquette Law School as part of Mike Gousha’s “On the Issues” series. My PowerPoint slides and a video of the event are available here. Alan Borsuk summarized some of the key points in this blog post.
If you watch the video, you will see that time constraints caused me to skip over a couple of slides. I’ll fill in those gaps here and then suggest where I would like to see Wisconsin go with early release.
First, I think one of the most interesting and puzzling aspects of our polling research is that substantial numbers of Wisconsin voters say they support both truth in sentencing (“TIS”) and release from prison when an offender can demonstrate that he is no longer a threat to public safety, even though these two policies are in tension with one another. My Marquette colleague Darren Wheelock and I have been studying this “both-and” group to better understand what underlies their thinking. Comprising more than one-quarter of our polling sample, I think of this group as the TIS swing voters — the people who support TIS, but not so strongly as to categorically rule out support for a well-designed, well-justified early release program. Read the rest of this entry »
November 2nd, 2013
Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission announced that it would conduct its first survey of citizen satisfaction with the police. The results should provide us with helpful new ways to evaluate the Milwaukee Police Department’s performance and identify areas in need of improvement.
Unfortunately, media coverage provides a very distorted picture of police-citizen interactions. What makes the news, of course, is when officers become violent or exhibit extreme callousness. When video is available of such incidents, as is increasingly common, the vivid images may be repeated endlessly on TV or circulate virally on social media. Viewers may be left with the impression that such incidents are the norm. However, the vast majority of police-citizen interactions occur without anything newsworthy happening. Among other things, the Commission’s new survey should give us a much better sense of what happens in the more routine interactions and how those interactions affect public perceptions of the police.
Although this sort of survey data has not been available for Milwaukee specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics did conduct a national survey in 2011 regarding police-citizens interactions. The results, released in two reports earlier this fall, indicate a remarkably high level of citizen satisfaction, even among the minority groups who seem to bear the brunt of the high-profile incidents of police misconduct. Read the rest of this entry »
October 20th, 2013
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a widely noted address to the American Bar Association that seemed to promise significant changes in federal prosecutorial policies. I wrote these reactions for the Federal Sentencing Reporter.
Following decades in which the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently advocated for a rigid and harsh legalism in criminal justice policy—in which DOJ, in the name of abstract principles of national uniformity, has willfully disregarded the devastating impact of its charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing practices on real-life human beings—Attorney General Holder’s ABA address seems a breath of fresh air. He calls for a more flexible federal criminal justice system, in which prosecutorial charging priorities are more specifically tailored to meet local needs, in which sentencing is more individualized to the offender and prosecutors sometimes forego mandatory minimum sentences, and in which individual U.S. Attorney Offices experiment with new diversion programs as an alternative to conventional case-processing. Holder believes—correctly, I think—that a more flexible and pragmatic system can achieve better public-safety results at a lesser cost than a system in which preserving the integrity of the federal sentencing guidelines is the overriding value.
Through Holder’s address, DOJ offers its most prominent and unequivocal endorsement yet of an emerging new criminal justice paradigm. Read the rest of this entry »
October 6th, 2013
Last week, the Audit Services Division of the Milwaukee County Office of the Comptroller released a helpful new report, “Electronic Monitoring can Achieve Substantive Savings for Milwaukee County, but Only if Pursued on a Large Scale with Satisfactory Compliance.” Although the voluminous report particularly focuses on electronic monitoring, it also provides a wealth of background information about the recent history of our local jail, House of Correction, and alternatives to incarceration. The report documents a rich array of new or recently reinvigorated programs that are intended to divert defendants from the jail or House of Correction, either at the pretrial stage or post-adjudication. The report also notes widespread support for these initiatives among nearly all major stakeholders in the County’s criminal justice system, with the most significant exception being Sheriff David Clarke.
Media coverage centered on the report’s finding that home detention and electronic monitoring of larger numbers of offenders might save the County more than $2.5 million in costs at the House of Correction. The Office of the Sheriff responded to this finding in a characteristically derisive fashion, particularly criticizing the House’s current leadership for placing drunk drivers on electronic monitoring.
Although the war of words among County officials makes good copy, I think the real story in the report is the extensive and innovative collaboration that has been occurring for the past half-dozen years between court officials, elected leaders, prosecutors, public defenders, and various other stakeholders in order to address Milwaukee’s chronic jail overcrowding and to develop cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. Read the rest of this entry »
September 22nd, 2013
- Wisconsin voters do not favor indiscriminate harshness in the treatment of criminal offenders, but rather believe that the costs and benefits of imprisonment should be carefully weighed in each case. In the July 2013 Marquette Law School Poll, a clear majority of Wisconsin voters (55.3%) expressed support for the idea that “prisons are a government spending program, and just like any other government program, they should be put to the cost-benefit test. States should analyze their prison populations and figure out if there are offenders in expensive prison cells who can be safely and effectively supervised in the community at a lower cost.”
- An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters (85%) agree that “criminals who have genuinely turned their lives around deserve a second chance.”
- An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters (86%) say that they “feel safe walking alone at night” in their neighborhoods.” Although fear and outrage have sometimes dominated public discussion of criminal justice policies, Wisconsin is ready for a more balanced conversation that considers what policies will deliver the greatest benefits to the state at the least cost over the long run.
Imprisonment and Crime Trends
Read the rest of this entry »
September 8th, 2013
Let’s face it. The protagonist of “Oliver Twist” just isn’t a very interesting character. Things start out promisingly enough with his famous request, “Please, sir, I want some more.” And who can resist applauding when he gives the boorish Noah Claypole a well-deserved thrashing? But we’re then forced to endure nearly 400 pages of Oliver as an insufferable milquetoast, passively cast here and there to suit the needs of Dickens’ laughably improbable plot, weeping copiously on cue to amplify the author’s sentimental excesses.
No, Oliver himself gives us no good reason to continue to read past page 50. It’s the villains who really carry the show. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, of course, supply some darkly memorable comic relief, and they are villains of a sort. Venal and hypocritical public servants, we might think of them as the forebears of some of today’s white-collar criminals. (Mr. Bumble is also the source of a perennially favorite statement about the law; upon being informed that “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction,” Bumble sputters helplessly, “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass–a idiot.” (402))
But the real scene-stealers are the criminals of a more conventional sort. Is there any doubt that Fagin is the most memorable and richly realized character in the book, with the murderous Bill Sikes not far behind? Read the rest of this entry »
August 25th, 2013
In the first post in this series, I explored the persistent racial disparities in Milwaukee arrests. How does Chicago compare? In a nutshell, the overall disparity rates are remarkably similar in Milwaukee and Chicago, but the War on Drugs drives the disparities to a much greater extent in the Windy City than here.
Let’s start by taking a look at black and white arrest rates in Chicago since 2000:
As is apparent, arrest rates have been coming down for both races, but white rates remain well below black.
Here is what has been happening in Milwaukee during the same time period: Read the rest of this entry »
August 20th, 2013
A much-revised version of my forthcoming Eighth Amendment article is now available on SSRN. In the article, I consider whether adults might benefit from the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, which imposed new limitations on the ability of states to sentence juveniles to life without parole. The new version reaches the same bottom-line conclusions (guardedly optimistic), but includes additional support for some of the arguments. Also, I’ve completely reorganized the first half to make the analysis clearer.
August 14th, 2013
AG Holder’s remarks to the ABA earlier this week, announcing new DOJ initiatives, are here. The related “Smart on Crime” report is here. Press coverage of the Holder speech focused on the announcement that federal prosecutors would no longer seek to have “draconian” mandatory minimums imposed on low-level drug offenders, but there are other interesting aspects to the new policy, including expanded compassionate release for federal prisoners and a new focus on reentry and collateral consequences.
It seems to me that just about everything here could have been said, and should have been said, two decades ago by AG Reno. Still, better late than never . . . .
Ironic that this federal backing away from mandatory minimums occurs the very same week we see a push in Wisconsin for new mandatory minimums at the state level.