Michigan’s parole policies waste money, need reform

This comes from the Detroit Free Press

Barbara Levine and Michael LaFaive,  December 13, 2014

Michigan spends nearly 20% of its general-fund dollars locking people up. A portion of that money could be better spent elsewhere, such as on education, roads or pension reform.

Despite cost-containment efforts, the Michigan Department of Corrections spends $2 billion a year, more than $1.6 billion of which is spent directly on operating prisons. If all this spending improved public safety, it would be worth it. However, it does not. One way to reduce spending without compromising public safety is through sentencing and parole reforms.

Michigan sends fewer people convicted of felonies to prison than most other states because we have been a national leader in diverting those convicted of serious offenses into community-based programs. As a result, nearly 70% of our prisoners are serving time for assault offenses. What drives our prison population is how long we keep people locked up, compared to other states.

In its 2012 report, “Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,”the Pew Center reported that Michigan prisoners serve much longer terms for comparable offenses than prisoners in other states. Michigan’s average length of stay is nearly 17 months longer for prisoners overall and 30 months longer for assault offenders.

Read the rest here.

From a New NJ Blog: Decarcerate NJ: Panel Discussion on Mass Incarceration July 30 2014

Open letter to Newark Organizations and Individuals Engaged in or Concerned About the Struggles for Justice:
June 23, 2014

In the last 2 weeks, Newark residents and others have met to begin planning a panel discussion on the topic of mass incarceration to be held on the steps of City Hall in Newark at 5:30 pm on Wednesday July 30.

We are hoping to use this event to launch a statewide coordinated effort to bring about the passage of what we call The NJ Decarceration Act that will call for sweeping reductions in NJ’s state prison populations.  We are sure that you have heard the statistics, how this nation has 6% of the world’s population yet holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, more than every other country on the planet.

Already, close to 1000 NJ residents have signed a petition with specific proposals as to how this can be accomplished.

 https://www.change.org/petitions/nj-state-senate-and-assembly-we-call-for-the-passage-of-a-nj-decarceration-act-to-deliver-large-scale-reductions-in-nj-s-state-adult-and-youth-prison-populations

 While there are many political and social sectors now calling for one kind of “prison reform” or another, given the racist and classist way that this state and nation determines who gets arrested, who gets prosecuted, who gets sentenced and for how long, it is of utmost importance that our communities take the lead in structuring the kind of decarceration legislation that is initiated and fought for.  We need to take the first step.

Our panel discussion will consist of three mini panels:

1. The first will be a broad overview of the mass incarceration issue that will break down the social function of mass incarceration, what interests it serves, who profits and gains from it. We will also discuss the racist element, how it is used to control our communities, the conditions of prisons, the treatment of prisoners, the health toll on the incarcerated and the forms of torture deployed in prisons. Last but not least will we demonstrate how mass incarceration devastates families as well as communities socially, politically and economically in some form of fashion.

2. The second mini panel will represent voices of Newark in discussing the specifics on a local level. The Newark community will express the toll mass incarceration takes within the community. The importance around this issue is critical to the survival and well being of the Newark community.

3. The third mini panel will talk about organizing this effort going forward, how to press for the introduction of NJ Decarceration Act, how to have similar forums in the other communities around NJ, how to approach the NJ legislature on the issue, how to mobilize support from within the community and families that are directly affected by mass incarceration.

While we have held two meetings, so far we have discussed primarily the logistics.  We are hoping that Newark’s rich and diverse array of activist organizations and voices participate and become part of this effort.  Our next meeting to continue organizing the panel will occur on Wednesday, June 25  6:30 pm at 298 S. 6th Street on the corner of So. Orange Av. ( the old habitat for humanity building).

We invite your members, organizers and leaders as individuals as well as your organization to become part of this effort.  We believe there is tremendous potential for success to deliver real and significant decarceration in NJ though our organizations and individuals working in common purpose to demand the passage and implementation of a NJ Decarceration Act.  We have drafted a letter to NJ Senator Ron Rice urging him to take the initiative toward introduction of the NJ Decarceration Act.  We urge your members and your organization to also make similar contact with Sen. Rice and other NJ representatives.

Please be encouraged to contact us at (908-881-5275) with any questions or ideas you have and we hope that you and / or a representative of your organization can attend the next meeting and participate in the event.

Sincerely,

Veronica Branch               Milton Conway                 Cassandra Dock              Brittani Johnson
Michael Allen Hobbs       Beautiful SeeAsia             Ruben E. Mendez            Bob Witanek
And others

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1443416885904424

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons

Opinion
in: CS Monitor

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons
Finally, America is beginning to tackle overcrowded prisons, prompted by financially strapped states that can no longer afford them. The road to prison reform, and less crowding, includes revamping ‘three strikes’ laws, as in California, and limiting pre-trial detention.

By Arjun Sethi / December 29, 2011

Necessity can spur novelty. Even political novelty. As the need for fiscal austerity grows, an unlikely alliance has emerged between policymakers and public advocates who have long sought criminal justice reform. These policymakers are realizing what advocates have reiterated for years: The nation’s addiction to incarceration as a curb on crime must end. The evidence is staggering.

In California, 54 prisoners may share a single toilet and 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium supervised by two or three officers. Suicidal inmates may be held for protracted periods in cages without toilets and the wait times for mental health care sometimes reach 12 months.

Citing these conditions and more, the Supreme Court ruled in May that California prisoners were deprived adequate access to medical and mental health care in violation of the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the early release of tens of thousands of inmates.

Prison overcrowding is ubiquitous and shows few signs of abating: Between 1970 and 2005, the nation’s inmate population grew by 700 percent. Besides impeding access to health care, overcrowding also creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions, diverts prison resources away from education and social development, and forces low- and high-risk offenders to mingle, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Expect additional lawsuits. That’s why a consortium of states, including Illinois, Texas, and my home state of Virginia, submitted an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of California.

America’s overreliance on incarceration has also impeded the rights of criminal defendants. TheSixth Amendment guarantees legal representation to individuals charged with a crime. Yet, because of the crushing volume of cases, indigent defense programs often suffer from inadequate staffing, funding, and supervision.

In Kentucky, a public defender may represent more than 450 clients in a single year. In Miami, Florida, the annual case load is nearly 500 felonies and 2,225 misdemeanors. The consequences include wrongful incarceration, wrongful convictions, and guilty pleas when meritorious defenses are otherwise available.

Civil rights groups in Michigan and New York have already brought lawsuits seeking an overhaul of their states’ indigent defense systems. These lawsuits might be a harbinger for the future: States unfaithful to the promise of the Sixth Amendment may be forced to increase funding and restructure legislative priorities.

Protecting prisoners and criminal defendants is not just about fidelity to the Bill of Rights. It is about recognizing that they are acutely vulnerable because they do not have access to coalitions and political networks capable of effecting change. Affording them protection is consistent with the enduring constitutional principle that political democracy alone cannot adequately protect the rights of certain groups of people.

First, revamp habitual-offender laws, now in effect in more than 20 states, which regularly yield perverse sentences.

California’s three-strikes law, for example, was passed during the paranoia that followed the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a long-time violent offender, and is so egregiously punitive that nonviolent petty theft may serve as a “third strike.” Leandro Andrade, a father of three, who never once committed a violent felony, received two sentences of 25 years-to-life for stealing children’s videotapes, including “Free Willy 2” and “Cinderella,” from Kmart. A new ballot initiative in California, “The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012,” seeks to change this law.

Second, implement misdemeanor reform by decriminalizing offenses such as feeding the homeless, dog-leash violations, and occupying multiple seats on the subway. Such reform is vital: between 1972 and 2006, misdemeanor prosecutions rose from 5 million to 10.5 million.

Third, limit the use of pre-trial detention. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s prison population haven’t been convicted of a crime – they are awaiting trial. Many are arrested for low-risk offenses such as disturbing the peace or traffic violations, and they languish in jail because they can’t afford bail. Releasing these individuals would not jeopardize public safety and would reduce overcrowding and public defender case loads. Just this year, Kentucky terminated pre-trial detention for numerous drug offenses and mandated citations rather than arrests for certain misdemeanors.

Fourth, impose nonprison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations like missing a meeting or court appearance. This would dramatically ameliorate overcrowding and excessive case loads given that over a third of all prison admissions are for such types of violations. Texas is leading the charge here, and through such measures has significantly reduced its inmate population.

The spirit that animates the Sixth and Eighth Amendments is human dignity. A recognition that no matter the crime or harm, criminal defendants and prisoners retain a dignity that must be respected.

Thirty years ago, a group of inmates claimed they were deprived of this dignity and, in what has since become a subject of fascination in American pop culture, rioted at Attica Correctional Facilityin New York. The ensuing violence and its death toll serves as an ominous reminder that Americamust pursue criminal justice reform if it is to honor this dignity.

Arjun Sethi is an attorney.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/1229/Four-ways-to-relieve-overcrowded-prisons

Ohio Prison Reform, Pulled in Two Directions

From: The Crime Report
By Matt Kelley
Tuesday, May 31

Smart criminal justice reform doesn’t happen overnight. Parallel proposals in Ohio present tidy examples of the right and wrong ways states are seeking to reduce crime, shrink prisons and save taxpayers money.

Let’s start with the good news. A bill that would help Ohio shrink populations at overcrowded state prisons and create new sentencing options for non-violent crimes, including drug treatment and expanded parole passed May 4 with almost unanimous support by the Ohio House of Representatives

Under the bill, the racist disparity between crack and cocaine sentences would be wiped out. New prisoners would be able to earn sentence reductions through participation in education and treatment programs. The bill is now awaiting a vote by the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. John Kasich deserves credit for supporting this fix, as do lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Smart criminal justice reforms are no longer political kryptonite. States like Ohio, which are facing budget pinches, are finally realizing that the “tough on crime” approach is expensive and only perpetuates cycles of poverty and crime.

Other states have shown huge reductions in recidivism (not to mention cost savings) by diverting people convicted of non-violent crimes (like drug offenses) to treatment and community parole instead of long stays in a lockup. Kentucky and Texas are examples of unlikely places where these reforms have taken root.

Unfortunately, another proposal gaining traction in Ohio calls for a vast expansion of prison privatization, which could do far more harm than good. Politicians still sell the idea of private prisons as a frugal fix with little downside, and Kasich is going for a big sale in Ohio, with six state prisons up for sale to the highest bidder.

The governor and his allies argue that private prisons could save taxpayers as much as 20 percent over state facilities, but fuzzy math and experiences in other states call those lofty goals into question.

Frugality aside, it’s not a good idea to place security and rehabilitation in the hands of profit-driven shareholders.

CCA and its peers do offer some education and treatment, and the state can mandate some of these services. But these companies are notorious for offering the bare minimum in order to maximize profits. Corrections officers and police unions (out to protect their jobs, of course) have protested Kasich’s plan, saying it will cost the state jobs and raise security concerns.

Kasich’s interest in private prisons shouldn’t be shocking.

The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s biggest private prison operator, was a big donor to the Republican Governors’ Association in 2010 races (when Kasich was elected). Once he took office, Kasich named Gary Mohr, a former managing director at CCA as the state’s corrections director. The revolving door turns the other way too, and in January CCA hired Kasich’s former congressional chief of staff as a lobbyist

Kasich should quit his corporate-friendly crusade for private prisons and focus on the positive court and prison reforms moving through the legislature. “Smart on crime” policies are taking root across the country, and the bill passed by Ohio’s House is a very encouraging start in the Buckeye state.

If Ohio lawmakers can keep their priorities straight, the state could be in for a reduction in both spending and crime.

Matt Kelley is the online communications manager at the Innocence Project and has written on criminal justice reform at change.org and other sites. He welcomes comments from readers.

Group of formerly incarcerated people visit area, discuss prison reform

By Scott Johnson • March 3, 2011
Montgomery Advertiser:


They have turned around their own lives, and now they want to turn around the direction of the U.S. prison system.


That is part of the message being presented by a group of formerly incarcerated people from across the country that employs the slogan “serving our country after serving our time.”

Dubbed the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People Movement, the group met Monday through Wednesday in Montgomery and Selma.

It is the first time the group has gathered in one location, and the choice of Montgomery and Selma was no accident.

“It is like our path was cut in the civil rights movement, and we are just bringing it back where it started,” said Dorsey Nunn, a rights advocate and former inmate from San Francisco who helped organize the meeting.

The group met Monday in Montgomery to discuss strategy.

Members marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Tuesday and met with state leaders at the State House on Wednesday.

The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan helped organize the gathering. Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society, an out reach group for inmates and former inmates.

Glasgow said group members Wednesday spoke with legislators, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Gov. Robert Bentley.

Glasgow said the formerly incarcerated bring a valuable voice to discussions about prison reform.

“When they use us (as a re source), they are talking to experts by experience — those who have been there, done that,” Glasgow said.

Group members emphasize their focus on public service, and they visited an alternative school in Selma on Tuesday as part of a gang- prevention effort.

Glasgow said the group also plans to work with victim rights groups to help make amends for crimes.

They also, however, hope to change some public policy and reform the way the nation’s prison systems operate.

To stress the importance of their cause, members point to issues such as the cost of prison overcrowding and how barriers to re-entering society might make felons more likely to return to crime.

Susan Burton created A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles re-entry program, in 1998. She said her drug and alcohol addictions led to six trips to prison, with her last release in 1996.

Burton said the time has come for like-minded people to unite on the issue of prison reform.

“We have no other way to go but to get together and figure it out,” said Burton, who was named a CNN “Top 10 Hero” for 2010.

Glasgow said he and Nunn have worked for a long time to organize such a gathering.

“It has been a vision for years,” said Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society.

Malik Aziz, founder of the National Exhoodus Council, said the group wants to be an active partner with law enforcement without alienating those who still are incarcerated.

“We want to be a community partner — a legitimate, recognized partner (with law enforcement). We won’t be an informer. That is not what our relation with the police is,” said Aziz, a former gang leader from Philadelphia.

Many of the group members talked about the large numbers of prisoners being released back into society.

More than 700,000 prisoners have been released from state and federal custody each year from 2005 to 2009, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Justice has gathered statistics.

Many of those people will return to poor economic conditions on top of the barriers to their re-integration into society, said Eddie Ellis of New York.

“There’s been no real discussion of what to do with those people,” said Ellis, co-founder of the Center for Nu Leadership on Urban Solutions at the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College.

Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said prison reform is a non-partisan issue.

Sayegh pointed out that critics on both sides of the political aisle have called for prison reform, including Newt Gingrich and the conservative group Right on Crime.

“There is widespread recognition that what we’ve got has failed,” said Sayegh, who was part of a group of sup porters who joined the gathering but are not formerly incarcerated.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization with a stated goal of ending the War on Drugs, helped fund the gathering.

Nunn said the three-day gathering was a success be cause it was the first time it has happened.

He said the next one will be in Los Angeles and will be even bigger as group members recruit other activists.

“It will be double or triple the size of the people we had here,” Nunn said.

Alabama Reforms Probation Law to Promote Safety and Reduce Prison Crowding




On April 30, 2010, Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed a new law that limits incarceration in Alabama’s overcrowded prisons for people on probation who commit no new offense but technically violate the terms of their probation. The new law gives judges more non-incarceration options for addressing technical probation violations.

The new probation law is an important first step in addressing Alabama’s prison overcrowding crisis. The state has more than 30,000 inmates in prisons designed to hold around 12,000 inmates. State corrections officials have described the system as a “time bomb waiting to explode.”

Parole and probation revocation cases account for nearly one in four new admissions to prison in Alabama. Nearly half of these revocations were for minor technical violations that did not result in a new offense. Technical violations include missing appointments, unpaid fines, changing residence without permission, and loss of employment.

During fiscal year 2006-2007, 1337 people had their probation revoked for a technical violation and were sent to prison, at a cost to Alabama taxpayers of more than $19 million. Non-incarceration alternatives would have saved the state $18 million.

The new law provides for non-incarceration alternatives to revocation of probation and limits to 90 days the period of incarceration for technical violators whose probation is revoked for something other than a new offense.
States across the country are reforming parole and probation, as technological innovations such as GPS monitors have made it possible to protect the public safety and save money. Alabama has not yet addressed the need for similar changes in its parole system, which regularly sends parolees back to prison for the remainder of their sentences after committing a technical violation, at a cost upwards of $5 million per year.