Chisholm’s Take on Criminal-Justice Reform

I posted last week on a recent op-ed by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke opposing so-called “smart-on-crime” initiatives.  Clarke may have been responding, at least in part, to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s Feb. 11 address at Marquette Law School.  (Chisholm’s text is here, and video is here.)  Whether or not Clarke meant to take on Chisholm, it is clear their respective approaches differ quite dramatically.  I’ll share some thoughts in this post on Chisholm’s proposals, which I generally find more appealing than Clarke’s call for mass incapacitation.

Chisholm advances three proposals.  First, “local safety officials must continue to adopt evidence based practices at all levels, from the time a person has contact with a police officer until the time they are released back into the community.” 

Continue reading “Chisholm’s Take on Criminal-Justice Reform”

Voters Prefer to Cut Corrections Spending Over Education Spending

I’ve just been reviewing an interesting set of survey results regarding criminal-justice policy from last fall (yes, I’m a little behind in my reading).  Sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the survey’s key findings are reported here.  In light of the current controversy in Wisconsin over the Governor’s newly released budget, I was particularly intrigued by public views regarding spending priorities in times of fiscal crisis.  Here are the percentages who rated various competing options “strongly not acceptable”:

Reducing funding for K-12: 71%

Raising property taxes: 60%

Reducing funding for health care services: 58%

Reducing funding for higher education: 55%

Raising business taxes: 39%

Reducing funding for state prisons: 27%

Raising income taxes for the wealthy: 23%

Reducing funding for transportation projects: 21%

Governor Walker’s budget seems to reverse these priorities: K-12 education is getting slashed by $834 million over the next two years, while corrections loses only $52.6 million.  (I get these numbers from yesterday’s Journal Sentinel report.)

Two other aspects of the budget proposal also caused me to raise my eyebrows.

Continue reading “Voters Prefer to Cut Corrections Spending Over Education Spending”

Roundup of New Laws Affecting Sentencing and Corrections

Earlier this week, the Sentencing Project released its annual roundup of new develoments in sentencing policy, The State of Sentencing 2010.  I always find these reports quite helpful.  As has been common in recent years, the overriding trend has been for states to look for ways to reduce corrections spending without compromising public safety.  Here are what the Sentencing Project characterizes as the “highlights”:

  • South Carolina equalized penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses as part of a sentencing reform package that garnered bipartisan support.
  • New Jersey modified its mandatory sentencing law that applies to convictions in “drug free school zones,” and now authorizes judges to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum in appropriate cases. Prior to the reform, more than 3,600 defendants a year were convicted under the statute, 96% of whom were African American or Latino.
  • Colorado modified its parole revocation policy in order to encourage greater use of substance abuse treatment programs. The legislation also requires that a portion of the cost savings from reduced incarceration be allocated to reentry services including employment assistance and substance abuse treatment.
  • Vermont established a goal of reducing the incarceration rate that directs a coalition of criminal justice stakeholders to work cooperatively to reduce the incarceration rate to 300 persons or less per 100,000 population, from the current rate of 370 per 100,000.

I am interested in the Vermont idea, which the Sentencing Project particularly holds out as a model for other states.  Although any particular numerical target will always be somewhat arbitrary, a specific goal as to which progress can be precisely, quantitatively measured may be very helpful to mobilize stakeholders. 

How does Wisconsin do?  Our imprisonment rate is 369 per 100,000 (this excludes those incarcerated in local jails).  How about we shoot for Minnesota’s rate of 189?

State Legislatures Continue to Grapple With Corrections Budgets

I’ve just read the National Conference of State Legislatures’ new E-Bulletin on developments in sentencing and corrections policy. The dominant theme continues to be fiscal pressures and the need to rein in corrections spending.  States across the country are emphasizing community-based alternatives to imprisonment and enhanced services and release opportunities for inmates.  Here are some highlights from the first half of 2010:   Continue reading “State Legislatures Continue to Grapple With Corrections Budgets”

MO Gives Sentencing Judges Cost Information

As reported in the New York Times here, Missouri has implemented a new information system for sentencing judges that supplies them with the expected cost of various sentencing options.  Missouri is apparently the first state to attempt to provide such information on a systematic basis.  Although some critics charge that putting the information in front of judges will cause judges to give too much weight to costs, it’s hard for me to imagine why that would be so — the money does not come from their pockets.  Surely, cost is a relevant variable in deciding what the best sentence would be in any given case, and I see no more risk that this variable will be given too much weight than any number of other potentially distorting variables, such as criminal history or victim impact statements.

Indeed, I would go one step further than Missouri and require judges to announce the expected cost in open court when they impose a sentence.  This would not only force judges to pay greater attention to the information, but also better inform the public regarding the consequences of existing sentencing policies.