Archive for the ‘Legislation Watch – State’ Category
I have lamented many times on this blog that the media has not been entirely accurate in its reporting on California’s “realignment” policy that went into effect in October 2011 (e.g. here and here). Luckily, there is no reason to be misinformed about realignment anymore because expert criminologist Joan Petersilia, who probably knows more about California parole and reentry than anyone and has advised California governors on criminal justice policy, has recently given an interview the Berkeley Law “Criminal Justice Conversations” podcast series. Listen here!
Unfortunately, and as evidenced by the numerous comments that keep streaming in on an earlier post I did on realignment, there seems to be widespread confusion not just in the media, but also on the ground about how realignment is being interpreted and applied in particular counties. Perhaps this is because the state and/or the counties are not doing a good job of communicating the policy to the public, or because the policy itself has some gaps, or simply isn’t working well (or isn’t working as well everywhere), or… etc. Whatever the reason for the confusion, this makes it all the more problematic that, as Petersilia notes in the podcast, the realignment bill did not set aside funds for evaluating its implementation:
You know it’s so disheartening, I can hardly voice it to you, to be honest with you. It goes against every other trend in every other state, and as you said, at the federal government, but it also goes against California’s recent history. Every other major initiative in modern history in California has had a set-aside, that if you’re going to spend all of this money to do things differently, somebody should be accountable and report back to the legislature about how well it worked. Realignment, we’re investing much more then any of these previous initiatives, and yet isn’t it rather odd that we didn’t set aside any money for evaluation?
“It’s a system that’s meant to fail,” [Supervisor Michael] Antonovich said, “and who is it going to fail? Every neighborhood, every community where these people are going to be running around….It’s a Pandora’s box. It’s the bar scene — a violent bar scene that you saw in ‘Star Wars’ — except they’re all crazy and nuts.”
Antonovich said it is likely that Los Angeles County will run out of jail beds unless it “uses other models of supervisions such as electronic monitoring, work furloughs, weekenders and GPS tracking.”
“It’s irresponsible for us to turn around and dump these [prisoners] into our communities with an ankle bracelet and hope they don’t re-offend,” Antonovich said. Without finding a way to increase prison time, Antonovich said, “I believe we’ll have a spike in crime.” Read the rest of this entry »
On October 1, California will start diverting low-level felony offenders and parole violators to county jail, rather than state prison, when a new law, known as “realignment,” goes into effect. The law was proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to bring the California prison system into compliance with the Supreme Court’s order to alleviate overcrowding, and was enacted by the Legislature in March as AB 109. I thought I’d run through a few basics of how the law will work and round up some recent news coverage from around the state. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive resource, the ACLU of Northern California has produced a helpful guide (PDF) to the law and how counties can plan for the changes.
- How will AB 109 change California sentencing practices? As of October 1, the law transfers responsibility for punishing non-serious, non-violent, non-sex felony offenses to the county level, where misdemeanors are already handled. So rather than being sent to state prison, these low-level offenders will now be punished with a term in county jail or whatever alternative sanction the county comes up with. (For those familiar with the California Penal Code, generally we’re talking about felonies punishable by the “16 months/2 years/3 years” triad.) Read the rest of this entry »
In 2008, California voters passed Prop 9, also known as Marsy’s Law, also known as the Victims’ Rights Bill of 2008. It was designed to decrease lifers’ chance of parole release by lengthening the amount of time between parole hearings, and to give victims a greater opportunity to participate in parole hearings. Thus far the law appears mainly to be succeeding at the former goal. A new study finds that
the passage of Marsy’s Law nearly doubled the amount of time set by the Parole Board between parole hearings. It is unclear whether Marsy’s Law has increased victim participation at parole hearings or has impacted the quality of victim participation at parole hearings.
(Keep in mind that California lifers already have a very small chance of being paroled.)
Should more states join the seven that offer ex-prisoners the opportunity to earn “certificates of rehabilitation”? In a new paper, NYU law professor Joy Radice draws lessons from the 50-year history of these certificates in New York, the first state to introduce a program of this type. Here’s the abstract:
After years of swelling prison populations, the reentry into society of people with criminal convictions has become a central criminal justice issue. Scholars, advocates, judges, and lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized that, even after prison, punishment continues from severe civil penalties that are imposed by federal and state statutes on anyone with a conviction. To alleviate the impact of these punishments, they have increasingly endorsed state legislation that creates certificates of rehabilitation. Seven states offer these postconviction certificates, and six others proposed such legislation in 2011. Many look to New York’s statute as the best model because it is the oldest and most robust. Yet no article has examined New York’s experience with Certificates of Rehabilitation.
This Article draws lessons from the fifty-year history of New York’s Certificates of Rehabilitation to describe features of an ideal administrative mechanism that removes statutory barriers to reentry. I argue that a model Certificate of Rehabilitation statute will have a strong enforcement mechanism and clear directives for administering authorities. Successful implementation also requires committed administrative leadership and an effective means for making certificates accessible to the population they serve. Certificates of Rehabilitation do not erase a person’s criminal history, but they offer legal and social recognition that after a criminal conviction, a person deserves a second chance.
Jim Campbell had a fascinating story in the Tulsa World this week about a set of bipartisan legislative proposals in the 1990s that could have brought Oklahoma’s prison system back from the “tough-on-crime” brink — only to meet with resistance:
Richard Kirby, [Gov. Frank] Keating’s legal adviser and delegate to the legislative panel, said the governor initially “had a lot of hope for it.”
“Then he was beginning to hear concerns from the law enforcement community about certain aspects of it,” said Kirby, now an Oklahoma County associate district judge. “One thing I heard was that the matrix required nine felony convictions before any time in prison. I think the matrix was a problem for a lot of people. The DAs were not brought in for the first part.”
The article is well worth reading in full — some of the story will be familiar (like high-profile crimes spurring bad policy reactions), and of course you’ll have to read between the lines of the quotes offered by self-serving politicians, but Campbell provides a detailed account of the interplay between federal judicial oversight, legislative incentives, the district attorneys’ lobby, and other political factors that make Oklahoma an illuminating case study. The piece is part of the ongoing Oklahoma Watch project on the state’s highest-in-the-nation female incarceration rate, which you can learn more about here.
UPDATE: Aaand it looks like this history could be repeating itself in Indiana.
One problem with the last 30 years in the United States is that we built all of these prisons and now they stand as an argument for their own preservation. Against hypothetical visions of a future with both fewer prisons and safer, more vibrant communities, hulking brick-and-metal warehouses for the “bad people” seem, to many, like a safer bet because, hey, we’ve already built them. I suppose I would just say: We have to get over that.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in the spirit of his inaugural message that “an incarceration program is not an employment program,” will seek to cut 3,000 prison beds in his 2011 budget. That’d be the largest single-year reduction in over 10 years, but considering New York would still have 61,000 prison beds left, it’s not like Cuomo’s proposing some kind of radical flinging-open of the prison doors. Plus New York’s not exactly flush in cash these days, so maybe this sounds like a good idea! But of course, the problem is that the politics of closing prisons are dicey (second in diceyness perhaps only to the politics of closing military bases), so instead of closed prisons it looks like what New Yorkers may actually get in 2011 is just another report by yet another blue-ribbon panel:
… instead of designating specific prisons for closing in his budget — a move that would harden opposition to his budget, perhaps implacably, among lawmakers whose districts are home to the facilities — Mr. Cuomo will appoint a task force of lawmakers and prison officials to come up with a consolidation plan after the budget is passed, people briefed on the plan said.
Donn Rowe, the president of the state correction officers’ union, expressed dismay over the proposal, saying, “The closure of any additional facilities could pose a clear and present danger to the public.”
Meanwhile, the New Orleans City Council is scheduled to vote this Thursday on how big of a new jail to build. Read the rest of this entry »
The Crime Report has an interview with Matthew Cate, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation — worth reading in full for California wonks. Here’s an excerpt:
TCR: What are your two or three major accomplishments?
Cate: Reducing prison overcrowding while seeing crime rates in California continue to decline, is accomplishment number one. Number two is parole reform, where as I’ve mentioned, we’ve developed and used a risk assessment tool to identify and focus our resources on our most dangerous inmates, rather than just cycling our low risk inmates through our prisons over and over again for technical violations. This concept of basing our decisions on the science of who’s risky and who’s not is a major step forward in California.
TCR: What has been your biggest frustration?
Cate: The fact that corrections reform takes so long. It took two-and-a-half years to put in place the basic rudiments of parole reform. It was a highly politicized issue, and there were civil service and bureaucratic rules that had to be dealt with. The red tape is so unbelievable in California that it takes a long time to make anything happen even when everyone agrees it should be done.
“It is important that we do our homework and establish a policy that not only keeps books like In Cold Blood out of the hands of violent criminals like Steven Hayes, but also a policy that will stand up to any legal challenges that are thrown its way,” Sen. [John] Kissel stated October 6. “Common sense is on our side and I believe we will be able to establish an effective policy without having to pass new legislation.”
Kissel and [Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo] Arnone confirmed that the corrections department would revise prison-library policy in about a month after examining how collection development is codified for federal prison libraries, and how those policies balance prison security against the threat of First Amendment lawsuits. …
“Somebody that is moved to commit a crime has much more going on in their lives than simply having read a few comic books or a novel or In Cold Blood,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy executive director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the AP October 3. The Prisoners’ Right to Read interpretation of ALA’s Library Bill of Rights acknowledges that prison librarians may be required by law “to prohibit material that instructs, incites, or advocates criminal action or bodily harm” but goes on to caution that “only those items that present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security should be restricted.”
This call comes, of course, in the wake of the murders in Cheshire, Conn., for which Steven Hayes was recently convicted and sentenced to death. Jonathan Simon has some thoughts on why Hayes’s particularly horrifying series of crimes is likely to shape policy for years to come; Jill Lepore wrote about the case last year.