Archive for the ‘Web Resources’ 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?
Here’s a podcast with sociologist Megan Comfort on her book, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of Prison (UChicago Press, 2007). Here’s what the book’s about:
Megan Comfort spent years getting to know women visiting men at San Quentin State Prison, observing how their romantic relationships drew them into contact with the penitentiary. Tangling with the prison’s intrusive scrutiny and rigid rules turns these women into “quasi-inmates,” eroding the boundary between home and prison and altering their sense of intimacy, love, and justice. Yet Comfort also finds that with social welfare weakened, prisons are the most powerful public institutions available to women struggling to overcome untreated social ills and sustain relationships with marginalized men. As a result, they express great ambivalence about the prison and the control it exerts over their daily lives.
At my local Borders yesterday I noticed not just one but two magazines on the newsstand featuring criminal justice topics this month:
- YES! Magazine‘s Beyond Prisons issue features articles on Washington State’s prison university program, Maori responses to youth crime, Hawaii’s women’s prison, and more. For activists, organizers, etc.: YES! licenses all its content through Creative Commons, so you can reprint the articles in your own publications without worrying about copyright. Just make sure you follow the magazine’s reprint guidelines here.
- Reason Magazine‘s Criminal Injustice issue includes pieces on the California prison guards’ union, the relationship between incarceration and the crime rate, sexual assault behind bars, the immigration detention system, and more.
Readers of this blog are likely familiar with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which works to protect the rights of prisoners as well as pretrial and immigration detainees nationwide. Now, the ACLU has embarked upon a related initiative, the Safe Communities, Fair Sentences project, which will advocate against mass incarceration. Bookmark this site for a weekly dose of “overincarceration” news.
At the ACSblog, ACLU attorney Inimai Chettler asks “Just What Is So Wrong with the War on Drugs?”:
So what’s the verdict 40 years later? Have we won the war on drugs? Quite simply, no. From a public safety perspective, the war has been completely ineffective at stemming the supply or use of drugs in this country. From a cost perspective, it’s been horrific – with a whopping $1 trillion price tag thus far and an unimaginably higher toll in lives and families lost to prison. In terms of fairness, it has been a total bust as well. The effect on communities of color has been astonishingly tragic: there are more African-Americans under the control of prison and corrections departments today than were ever enslaved by this country. Even the current head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, and more recently the Global Commission on Drug Policy, have announced that the drug war has been an abject disaster.
According to the federal government, drugs are increasingly widely available and the rates of drug use are actually up by 10 percent since the start of the war on drugs. Drug supply and use have increased despite the2.3 million people languishing in prisons – about 25 percent of whom are locked up for drug violations. If we look at just federal prisons, things are even worse, with nearly half of those in prison locked up for drug crimes.
When we incarcerate drug offenders, they stay locked up for insanely lengthy periods of time – and often forever. We increasingly sentence them to life in prison under three-strikes-and-you’re-outlaws for petty drug crimes. And disappointingly, our Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of laws imposing disproportionate mandatory sentences of life without parole for simple possession of drugs.
I don’t know if the current momentum for criminal justice reform will translate into legislative results, but hey, at least we’re getting some handy websites out of it. First there was Right on Crime, and now there’s Smart on Crime — a website compiling federal policy recommendations related to all facets of criminal justice reform, put together by a coalition of organizations ranging from the ACLU and NACDL to the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute. The site is organized around issues, with each section including an overview of the problem, a list of reform recommendations, and contact info for leading experts on the subject, so it’s a handy resource even if you’re not the target audience of “the Administration and Congress.”
Anyway, the section on Prison Reform takes up some issues close to this blog’s heart — including the Prison Litigation Reform Act (which I’ve written about here). Here’s a summary of Smart on Crime’s recommendations on prison policy:
- Fully implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act
- Address the problems created by the Prison Litigation Reform Act
- Build transparency and accountability in corrections
- Reduce recidivism and increase effective rehabilitation
- Reduce the use of long-term isolation and design effective alternatives
- Design an evidence-based approach to criminal justice
The Los Angeles Times has a fun (frightening?) interactive tool where you can try your hand at eliminating California’s deficit, limiting yourself to options actually on the table in Sacramento (if I understand the tool correctly). Here’s my stab at balancing the budget — note: these aren’t necessarily my considered policy preferences, but just my first stab playing around with the tool with a special eye toward prisons, the fastest-growing component of California’s spending commitments.
Three things I like about the tool:
- It comes with a Q&A that punctures various right-wing canards about California’s budget woes. California’s not bleeding money on discretionary services for illegal immigrants, its taxes aren’t the highest in the nation, and depending on what program you’re looking at, California isn’t actually that generous with welfare spending: “For some benefits, California’s payouts are among the lowest in the nation. For others, the state is more generous.”
- The tool graphically illustrates how hard it would be to make the necessary cuts if you have any level of commitment to public education and welfare programs — and if you know what kinds of cuts/fee hikes California’s K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities have already endured.
- Finally, the tool shows just how much of California’s budget is currently being sucked up by its counterproductive sentencing policies. The option on the table is to reduce the prison population by 40,000 inmates, but that still leaves over 100,000 inmates behind bars and the state’s bloated prison system basically intact.
When playing around with the tool, the easiest choice for me — although it’s probably a lot harder for people who work in Sacramento — was to “release” 40,000 prisoners. This wouldn’t be that radical of a step: California’s already under a federal court order to do so, and there are viable plans out there for gradually reducing the prison population without sacrificing public safety — mainly by fixing California’s absurdly broken and wasteful parole system, which resembles that of no other state in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »