The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice has finally come out in print, and with it my two entries on restitution and sentencing commissions. A copy of “Restitution” is here, and a copy of “Sentencing Commissions” here.
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. (more…)
As noted here a few weeks ago, my forthcoming article comparing imprisonment trends in Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in now available on-line. Due to space constraints, I was unable to include in the article all of the interesting data I have collected on the three states. I’ll present some of that additional material in an occasional series of posts here.
Today, let’s take a look at the supervised populations of the three states. The supervised population is comprised of four subgroups: those in prisons, those in jails, those on probation, and those out on post-imprisonment supervised release (a status that goes by different names in different jurisdictions, but which I will call parole). As is well known, Minnesota has a remarkably low imprisonment rate (at least by U.S. standards), although all three states have experienced an imprisonment boom since the 1970s. Here are the imprisonment numbers, reflecting the number of prisoners per 100,000 state residents:
As the graph indicates, Minnesota has maintained a consistently lower imprisonment rate than the other two states since the mid-1960s. Indeed, the Minnesota advantage has tended to widen over time. By contrast, Indiana has generally had the highest imprisonment rate, although Wisconsin has been close at times, and even took the lead for a few years.
The story is quite different, however, if you consider the supervision numbers more broadly. (more…)
I have two new essays on SSRN assessing the history and future prospects of restitution and sentencing commissions, respectively. These essays will be published later this year in the Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
The restitution essay covers such topics as Randy Barnett’s proposal that restitution be used in lieu of imprisonment as our basic form of criminal punishment, debates regarding which types of victims should be able to recover for which types of injuries, and the question of whether victims seeking restitution should be given a right to legal representation.
The sentencing commissions essay focuses particularly on the Minnesota and federal sentencing commissions. In considering these case studies, as well as the experience with sentencing commissions in a few other states, my
primary theme is the relationship between sentencing commissions and legislatures. Although sentencing commissions are predominantly legislative creations, commissions have often struggled to maintain their relevance in the face of ongoing legislative policymaking in the sentencing area, which frequently takes the form of harsh statutory responses to the “crime du jour.” A secondary theme is the relationship between commissions and judges—another relationship that has sometimes proven quite challenging for the commissions to manage effectively.
A draft of my new article, “Mass Incarceration in the Three Midwestern States: Origins and Trends,” is now available on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:
This Article considers how the mass incarceration story has played out over the past forty years in three medium-sized Midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The three stories are similar in many respects, but notable differences are also apparent. For instance, Minnesota’s imprisonment rate is less than half that of the other two states, while Indiana imprisons more than twice as many drug offenders as either of its peers. The Article seeks to unpack these and other imprisonment trends and to relate them to crime and arrest data over time, focusing particularly on the relative importance of violent crime and drug enforcement as drivers of imprisonment growth.
The article builds on my series of “Tale of Three States” blog posts from about a year ago. It will appear in print later this year in a symposium issue of the Valparaiso Law Review.
How much does imprisonment cost a state’s taxpayers? The question is conventionally answered simply by looking at the budget of the state’s department of corrections. In some states, however, a substantial share of the imprisonment-related expenses are borne by other state agencies or otherwise do not appear in the corrections department’s budget. In order to provide a more complete accounting of the costs of imprisonment, researchers from the Vera Institute of Justice recently collected and analyzed data from forty states (including Wisconsin). Their findings were published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter at 25 Fed. Sent. Rep. 68 (2012).
The Vera researchers identified eleven categories of costs that are not included in corrections budgets. The most important of these, amounting to almost $2 billion in costs nationally in 2010, took the form of gaps in the funding of health benefits for retired corrections employees. In some states, this and other off-the-budget costs added up to a large share of total prison costs. For instance, in both Connecticut and Illinois, about one-third of the total prison cost was outside the corrections budget. When hidden expenses are so high, the public may have a hard time evaluating the true cost-effectiveness of state sentencing and corrections policies.
Wisconsin’s hidden costs, at 8.5 percent of the total, were somewhat below the average among the forty states studied. (more…)
As I discussed in a recent post, the United States Supreme Court left many questions unanswered in its two recent decisions on life without parole for juveniles. In the first case, Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court banned LWOP for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses. Then, in Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Court banned mandatory LWOP even for juveniles convicted of homicide. These were important Eighth Amendment decisions, but the lower courts have been left to implement them without much guidance.
Yesterday, the California Supreme Court began to address some of the unanswered questions in People v. Caballero. I think Caballero got things right, as far as it went, but the case left much open for future litigation. (more…)
The Sentencing Project has a new report on prisoners sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18. Entitled “The Lives of Juvenile Lifers,” the report presents the results from a national survey of more than 1,500 JLWOP inmates. The report is very timely in light of the Supreme Court’s two pending JLWOP cases — perhaps the new information will help to convince the justices that JLWOP does indeed constitute cruel and unusual punishment, even for homicide crimes. In any event, here are some of the highlights.
In a new report entitled “The State of Sentencing 2011: Developments in Policy and Practice,” Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project summarizes the most recent set of criminal-justice reforms adopted across the United States. Continuing a recurring theme in recent years, many of these reforms are intended to reduce incarceration numbers and corrections budgets. Here are some highlights:
In the previous post in this series, I took the imprisonment data from Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin back to 1991. I’ve been interested, though, in pinpointing when exactly the Minnesota-Wisconsin imprisonment disparity arose, which requires going back further — much further, to the 1950′s. Here are the numbers:
|WI Imprisonment Rate (per 1000,000)||Percent Change||MN Imprisonment Rate (per 1000,000)||Percent Change||IN Imprisonment Rate (per 1000,000)||Percent Change|
The numbers tell a remarkable story. Here are some of the parts of that story that stand out for me: