Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘community corrections

“Prison Without Walls” and the Special Case of California

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The Atlantic has an interesting article called “Prison Without Walls,”* on supervised release programs like parole and probation, and the rise of GPS tracking and other ways of keeping track of “prisoners on the outside” — what Graeme Wood calls, in the article, “Panopticon justice.” As a California-based observer of prison law and policy, I only have one quibble with the article. Wood describes his subject as follows:

An underappreciated fact of our penitentiary system is that of all Americans “serving time” at any given moment, only a third are actually behind bars. The rest—some 5 million of them—are circulating among the free on conditional supervised release either as parolees, who are freed from prison before their sentences conclude, or as probationers, who walk free in lieu of jail time. These prisoners-on-the-outside have in fact outnumbered the incarcerated for decades.

This traditional definition of parolees — men and women “freed from prison before their sentences conclude” — is not accurate as applied to California, the nation’s largest prison system. While California does have a small population of prisoners sentenced to variable-to-life terms and thus theoretically eligible for parole in the sense of early release, California also uses its parole system to supervise the 95% of its prisoners who serve determinate sentences. From 1979 through this past January, every determinately sentenced offender in California faced a mandatory post-release parole supervision period of up to 3 years; as of January 2010, about 85% do, and even those not on full parole can still be kept on “banked parole,” meaning they can be searched without a warrant at any time. (I summarized California parole, and linked to some helpful overviews of the system, in a post back in January. Another good overview was recently published by the Bay Citizen. In light of the widespread confusion, I’ve also asked a couple of times if California shouldn’t change the name of parole supervision altogether.) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

August 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

New Study: Ohio’s Prison System a “Costly ‘Revolving Door’”

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Ohio’s prisons are packed with low-level property and drug offenders serving sentences of just a few weeks or months, who could more cost-effectively be sentenced to probation, according to a newly released report from the Council of State Governments. The study compared Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) with Franklin County (Columbus) and found significant differences in the rates at which low-level offenders were sentenced to prison. As summarized by the Plain Dealer:

• Cuyahoga’s 34 common pleas court judges sentenced 51 percent of fourth-degree felony offenders to probation. In Franklin County … 63 percent of fourth-degree felons received probation.

• Cuyahoga sentenced 66 percent of less-serious fifth-degree felons to probation, compared to Franklin County’s 82 percent.

• Had Cuyahoga judges sentenced low-level felons to probation at the same rate as judges in Franklin County, 1,060 fewer people would have been sent to prison.

The report also notes that Ohio’s community corrections programs do not have clear eligibility criteria, and that its probation system is “a patchwork of independent agencies” with inconsistent policies. The study was conducted by the Council of State Governments through its Justice Reinvestment initiative, which pairs expert consultants with state policymakers to consult on criminal justice reform (and which, incidentally, has a lot of interesting resources on its website).

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