Want Friendlier Cops? Hire More Blacks and Latinos, says Study

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs? A study released Friday suggests it does, and the authors—both from the University of Central Florida—say it supports arguments that law enforcement diversity is crucial to restoring trust and legitimacy in America’s police forces.

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs?

A Florida study released Friday suggests it does, although the authors admit their findings aren’t conclusive.

The study found “significant” variation among African-American, Latino and white police officers in West Palm Beach, FL, not only in their attitudes towards community policing, but in the way they regarded citizens who needed help—even in cases that did not involve serious crimes.

“Officers of color harbor much less negativity toward citizens and are more willing to see them as worthy of help, including for matters not involving serious crimes,” said the study, which also found that black and Latino officers displayed less cynicism about their jobs than their white colleagues.

The authors of the study, Jacinta M. Gau and Eugene A. Paoline III, both of the University of Central Florida, based their findings on responses to a survey administered during morning roll call over a week-long period in July 2016 to 149 beat cops—representing more than half the 228-member West Palm Beach Police Department.

Some 35% of the department’s uniformed personnel are black or Latino. While that was still not reflective of West Palm Beach’s population—the authors cited U.S. Census Bureau figures showing that over half the city’s 107,000 residents were persons of color— they argued that the racial breakdown of the city’s force reflected the nationwide trend towards increased diversity in hiring, and was substantial enough to make it the focus of their survey.

Although more than 200 officers actually participated in the study, the authors focused on beat cops whose responses they felt would more clearly reflect street knowledge and experience.

Their findings offered some statistical support for arguments by police reformers that diversity is crucial to improving police-community relations—particularly in at-risk neighborhoods where trust and confidence in law enforcement are at a low ebb.

The authors said the survey results suggested that black and Latino officers “may be uniquely important to fostering the reliable public support” that allows police to effectively protect public safety.

“A greater representation of minority officers may translate into better service provision and police–community relationships,” they said, noting that both black and Latino officers were more “favorably disposed than whites” towards partnerships with businesses and community groups in crime-prevention efforts.

While nearly all the officers shared similar opinions about the importance of the law-and-order aspects of their job (catching criminals), “Black and Latino officers seem to view citizens more favorably than white officers do (and) are significantly more likely to believe that victims deserve police assistance and that they are genuinely helping people when they answer calls for service.”

The authors made clear their study did not attempt to analyze the reasons for the disparity, and they notably avoided any suggestion that racist attitudes played any role in the differing responses.

They noted that other studies have shown that much of the cynicism ascribed to police was the result of attitudes learned from colleagues over time as they acquired more experience in their jobs—and as they dealt with commanders and supervisors.

The study did not provide more detailed data on the officers’ gender, experience or economic background, and the authors made clear that more studies of other law enforcement agencies around the country, conducted over longer periods of time, were essential before drawing any definitive conclusions about the influence of an officer’s race on his or her behavior.

But they said their findings underlined the need for police leaders and supervisors to pay more attention to keeping officers of “all races sensitized to the importance of their actions during face-to-face interactions with citizens,” which is also among the conclusions of former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Without calling white officers out,” the authors said, “(their) negative leaning seems to suggest a need for police leaders to pay attention to officers’ attitudes and the way in which they approach citizens.”

At a minimum, they said, their findings made clear that increasing the diversity of police forces should continue to be high on the agenda of police managers and policymakers.

Officers of color are increasing in number across the country.

The authors cited figures showing that the ranks of minority officers in municipal and county agencies nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013, from 15% to 27% .

A full copy of the study, which will be published in Justice Quarterly under the title “Officer Race, Role Orientations, and Cynicism toward Citizens,” is available here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Study Finds ‘Significant’ Increase in State Juvenile Justice Reforms

At least 36 states have passed legislation to keep young people out of adult prisons or jails since 2005—and more states are on track to limit youth exposure to the adult justice system over the next two years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

At least 36 states have passed legislation to keep young people out of adult prisons or jails since 2005—and more states are on track to limit youth exposure to the adult justice system over the next two years, according to a study released Wednesday.

In its third “State Trends” report, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CYJ) said reforms to the juvenile justice system aimed at treating children who ran afoul of the law “in a developmentally appropriate way” represented a “significant” increase over the past decade.

By 2014, for example, the number of young people under 18 who were automatically excluded from juvenile court had been cut in half to 90,900 from 175,000 in 2007.

Just in the past two years alone, some nine states and the District of Columbia passed laws removing young people from adult facilities or limiting their detention in such facilities, the report said.

At the same time, 19 states have raised the age at which youth are eligible to be tried or transferred in adult court or limited the types of offenses that would send them there.

“We are no longer giving up on our young people,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards, who was quoted in the report. “Rather we are giving them a chance to get their lives back on track.”

Citing some 70 pieces of legislation to reform juvenile justice practices enacted by states since 2005, Campaign for Youth Justice CEO Marcy Mistrett said the measures represented “positive momentum.”

“These legislative victories are not just good for youth—they set an historic precedent in our country,” she said in a press release accompanying the report.

“Once New York and North Carolina fully implement their (raise-the-age) laws, it will be the first time since the creation of the juvenile court in the United States that 16-year-olds are not automatically treated as adult simply because of their age.”

Meanwhile California and Vermont restored the discretion of juvenile court judges to make “individualized determinations” on sentencing, thereby ending prosecutors’ ability to decide unilaterally whether a young person should be tried in the adult system.

The CYJ first began publishing state trends reports in 2011. The third update includes legislative achievements between January 2015 and August 2017.

But Mistrett said the newest “Raising the Bar” report still made clear that there was “still a lot of work to do”—especially under a new administration in Washington whose focus is on crime reduction and law enforcement rather than crime prevention.

She noted that five states still treat 17-year-olds as adults, and young people sent to adult facilities there suffer “physical and sexual trauma.” At the same time, racial disparities in the treatment of young people in trouble with the law have increased, she said.

“Advocates must be incredibly vigilant to ensure that legislative victories are fully implemented and preserved for ALL children,” she wrote in the introduction to the report.

At the same time, she called for “resisting legislation that does not reflect the overwhelming research in favor of serving youth in a developmentally appropriate, evidence-informed, community-based juvenile justice system rather than the adult system.”

“Further, we must embrace solutions that reduce, and don’t exacerbate penalties for youth of color.”

For additional reading, see also, “Kids Kept in Solitary at LA’s Largest Juvenile Hall” (LA Witness)

The full report can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Returning Inmates Need “A Place to Call Home:” Study

Safe and affordable housing for formerly incarcerated individuals is essential to breaking the cycle of homelessness and recidivism that prevents them from rebuilding their lives as productive citizens, according to a report released Tuesday by the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College.

Safe and affordable housing for formerly incarcerated individuals is essential to breaking the “cycle” of homelessness and recidivism that prevents them from rebuilding their lives as productive citizens, according to a report issued Tuesday.

“People who have paid their debt to society should have the chance to reunify with their families and have a home where children can visit or live,” said the report, released by the Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“Providing a true home for people with criminal justice histories helps families get back together, stay together, and provide support to each other.”

But too often, the report noted, housing discrimination in the private market and regulations that prevent them from living in public housing drive returning inmates to the streets, or to unsafe and overcrowded shelters.

“People living in such (shelters) often have no refrigerator where they can store fresh food,” said the report, entitled A Place to Call Home.

“They can’t hang their clothes in closets in preparation for job interviews or work. They have no secure space to keep their valuables, photographs, or family keepsakes. They have no permanent address for job or school applications.

“Rather than providing the basis for success, these types of shelter more often lead to a cycle of homelessness and repeated jail or prison stays.”

The report was based in part on a day-long conference held last year at John Jay College, co-hosted by the Prisoner Reentry Institute, The Fortune Society, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

Carl Dukes. Photo courtesy Prisoner Reentry Institute

Carl Dukes, one former inmate quoted in the report, recounted how after being released from prison in New York State after 31 years behind bars, he found himself homeless for several weeks.

“I was forced to carry my heavy bag between three different shelters, despite having recently undergone spinal surgery.”

Dukes said finding housing through New York’s Fortune Society offered him a “safe place to readjust to life in the community.”

According to the report, the lack of housing is one of the critical barriers to successful reentry for the millions of individuals who leave jail or prison in the U.S. every year.

Recommendations to policymakers included:

  • Eliminating landlord discrimination;
  • Reforming policies that exclude public housing tenants after an arrest or conviction;
  • Establishing “creative partnerships” that would enable the development of a wide spectrum of housing that meets the different needs of returning inmates;
  • Strengthening “in-reach” programs at correctional facilities to identify and assess the housing needs of inmates before they are released.

The report also called for more support for “ban the box” initiatives that eliminate questions on previous criminal history from employment applications forms.

“Housing is a fundamental human need that lays the foundation for success in every aspect of our lives,” said the report.

“When we have a home, we have a safe space to lay our head at night, store our personal belongings, a kitchen where we can cook our meals, and a launch pad from which we can seek jobs, attend school, and connect with our friends and family”

Similarly, the report added, “people with past involvement in the justice system need housing in order to reconstruct their lives….as they look for a home, however, they find the doors to housing closed at every turn. “

Helping them find safe, affordable and supportive housing “furthers the shared values that Americans have held dear since the founding of this country,” the report said.

For a press release on the report, please click here. The full report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Executive editor Stephen Handelman. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Six Decades of Felonies in America

A new quantitative study of felony populations between 1948 and 2010, issued by the Population Association of America, represents the first attempt to offer a comprehensive view of states-level criminal punishment in the United States, across both demographic and geographic lines.

A new quantitative study of felony populations between 1948 and 2010 represents the first attempt to gain a comprehensive view of states-level criminal punishment in the United States, across both demographic and geographic lines.

The authors of this study, issued by the Population Association of America, stipulate that exact data is hard to come by. States have different reporting systems, racial categorizations have changed over time, and multiple other factors affect estimates– such as recidivism, mobility, deportation, and death. Therefore, the authors say, the figures they present “are estimates based on models rather than a census-like enumeration of these populations.”

The study shows that while incarceration growth began to level off somewhat around 2000, and dropped between 2008 and 2010, the number of adults with felony records kept rising–from under 2 million in 1948, to around 19 million in 2010.

This is a critical figure to watch, especially as criminal justice reform targets mass incarceration, because “many of the collateral consequences of punishment—most notably for the labor market, housing, and access to public supports—flow not from incarceration experiences but from the application of a widely known and publicly disseminated felony label.”

Race and Region

“Nationwide, approximately 8 % of all adults had a felony conviction as of 2010, but approximately 23 % of African American adults shared the same distinction,” the authors found.

“A staggering 33 % of African American adult males had a felony conviction by 2010. Depending on the state, between 1 in 10 and 1 in 3 African American adults are confronting the daily reality of limited citizenship rights, diminished job prospects, and stigmatization.

“Communities and families in which people with prison experience and felony records live are also taxed by the material and social consequences of criminal punishment.”

The percentage of adults currently in prison or on parole in the U.S. more than tripled between 1980 and 2010, from .94% to 3.11%. Among African American adults, that percentage rose from 3.04% to 9.64%.

Looking at 2010 alone, the percentage of all adults in prison in all states except for Alaska and Louisiana was less than 1%. However, when filtering this data by race, the authors found that African American adults were incarcerated at rates of between 2.5% and 5% in 19 states; in Vermont, which has a low baseline population of African Americans, the incarceration rate was 8%.

The total percentage of current adult felons in 2010 was between 1% and 2.5% in all but 17 states. Filtered again for race, that map changes dramatically: 20 states had an adult African American felon population of between 5% and 8%, and in two states, that number was over 8%.

In conclusion, the authors reiterate the need to focus studies on felony records, saying that “although incarceration levels are stabilizing or decreasing, the broader population of those with felony records will likely continue to grow as states turn to community supervision as an alternative to incarceration.”

This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, deputy editor of The Crime Report. We welcome readers’ comments.

The Growth, Scope, and Spacial Distribution of People With Felony Records in the United States, 1948-2010 is published in the October 2017 issue of Demography. If you are a journalist and would like a copy of this report, please contact victoria@thecrimereport.org.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Medicaid Expansion Tied to Reduction in Crime

States which exercised the option under Obamacare to expand Medicaid eligibility experienced a 3% decrease in the annual rate of reported crimes compared to non-expansive states, according to a University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign paper. The decline saved taxpayers an estimated $400 million annually.

States which exercised the option to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) experienced a 3% decrease in the annual rate of reported crimes compared to non-expansive states, according to an analysis of crime data figures between 2010 and 2015.

The study found that the reductions in state-level crime rates were largest in counties that experienced the largest changes in insurance rates following the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in 2014.

The study, entitled “Access to Health Care and Criminal Behavior: Short-Run Evidence from the ACA Medicaid Expansions,” tracked figures from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the Census bureau since the ACA removed restrictions on treatment for states that chose to expand Medicaid eligibility, and based eligibility solely on income.

According to figures cited by the study author, Jacob E. Vogler, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, of the estimated 15 million individuals newly eligible for Medicaid coverage under the ACA, one third had prior criminal justice involvement.

Under the Medicaid expansion, these individuals could receive coverage for a wide range of treatments for mental illness, substance use disorders, and chronic diseases.

Approximately 70 percent of individuals with a criminal history have a substance use disorder, mental health issue, and/or serious physical medical condition. These conditions may lead to criminal behavior and incarceration without adequate insurance coverage.

“While high rates of uninsurance and criminal behavior separately impose heavy burdens on individuals and communities in the U.S., statistics also indicate that the issues are closely linked,” said the paper.

Vogler’s analysis found that since 2014, violent crime rates in expansive states saw an overall reduction between 4% and 5%. Property crime rates in these states also saw an overall reduction of 3%.

He estimated that the reduction resulted in an annual costs savings of nearly $400 million.

The research compared the 31 states and the District of Columbia which have adapted Medicaid expansion to the 19 states which had not. As well as state-level crime data obtained from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2010-2015, the paper used county-level data obtained from the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research UCR Program Data Series.

Social cost savings were calculated by combining inflation-adjusted cost estimates with the estimates number of reduced incidents of crime.

Founded in 1965, Medicaid is the largest means-tested social insurance program in the country. States have a great deal of autonomy when determining program generosity, creating heterogeneity in Medicaid requirements across individual states.

The Medicaid reform was originally formulated to apply nationwide, but was effectively made a state option by a 2012 Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA.

Future research is essential as the long-term impact of health insurance eligibility on criminal activity remains unknown, the author said.

A full copy of the report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Sexual Justice Ambassadors’ Focus on College-Age Youth

A New York pilot program launched by students at John Jay College aims to help college-bound high schoolers and first-year college students deal with the forms of sexual aggression they might encounter on and off campus. The program is an outgrowth of a college course called “Seeing Rape”—the first of its kind in the U.S.

When Anna Giannicchi was a high school student preparing for college, she realized that few of her teachers were willing to speak directly about an issue she knew not only preoccupied her friends—but was hard to avoid in the popular media.

“The idea of rape is so scary for people, but it (should be) OK to talk about,” said Giannicchi. “There shouldn’t be shame or fear or guilt.”

Giannicchi, now at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is part of a group of students who have developed a pilot program to help college-bound high schoolers and first-year college students deal with the forms of sexual aggression they might encounter on and off campus.

The “Sexual Justice Ambassadors” program, with support from the New York City Mayor’s Office and women’s advocacy groups, is set to begin next year.

Mariell Ellis (left) and Anna Giannicchi. Both students have also written plays as part of the “Seeing Rape” course.

The student “ambassadors” plan to visit high schools in the metro New York area to lead discussions aimed at giving both young men and women the communications skills to recognize and head off unwanted sexual behavior.

“We underestimate students, but they’ve already dealt with some tough situations…and it’s important to have these conversations,” added Marell Ellis, another John Jay student in the program. “It’s just as important as learning how to balance a checkbook.”

Both women discussed the program with Crime Report editor Stephen Handelman in an episode of “Criminal Justice Matters,” a monthly CUNY-TV program, which aired this week.

campus sex assault

The short student-written dramas in the John Jay course are performed by professional actors

The program is an outgrowth of a course called “Sex, Gender and Justice: Seeing Rape,” which provides students with both the historical context and a “vocabulary” for discussing a subject that has long been taboo in popular culture.

Launched four years ago, the course is the only one of its kind in the U.S., according to John Jay Prof. Shonna Trinch, who team-teaches it with another John Jay professor, Barbara Cassidy.

“We hope this will become a national model,” said Trinch, who conceded there was some initial resistance on the campus to addressing such a sensitive subject as part of the college curriculum.

But the courses, which also encourage students to write short dramas about sexual violence issues that are performed by professional actors at the end of the semester, have been popular. More than 70 John Jay students, including men and women, signed up for last fall’s course.

The instructors guide students through the various ways rape is concealed or overlooked in a popular culture that is often saturated with sexual themes.

John Jay professors Barbara Cassidy (left) and Shonna Trinch team-teach the groundbreaking course on Seeing Rape.

“If we don’t ‘see’ rape, we don’t know it’s there,” said Prof. Cassidy, who is also a playwright. “We give students a vocabulary to talk about it.”

Trinch pointed out that the course tries to steer clear of politics, although she notes that attention to sexual harassment and abuse figured prominently during the last national election campaign, and efforts to address concerns about sex assaults on campus are now the focus of debate under the new administration.

“The tone has changed,” she said.

See also the Sept 14, 2017 TCR story by Megan Hadley, ‘Will Trump Weaken Title IX Protections?”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Byrne Grants Did Not Improve Police Effectiveness: Study

A federal program aimed at strengthening law enforcement efforts to combat drug traffickers had little impact on deterrence,  and disproportionally affected African Americans, according to a University of California study.

Federal funding aimed at strengthening police departments’ ability to fight the War on Drugs disproportionally affected African-American populations, but did not improve police effectiveness, according to a working paper released this month by The Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the University of Southern California.

The CESR paper focused on The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program, a matching grant program authorized under the 1988 federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act.

The Byrne Grant program, which was revised in 2005 to include a local law enforcement block grant program and renamed the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), was regarded as a key tool in implementing the federal government’s efforts to curb narcotics trafficking.

It was aimed primarily at reinforcing state and local law enforcement efforts to intervene against traffickers whose operations often span local boundaries.

Byrne grants could be used to pay for additional police personnel, equipment, training, technical assistance and information systems, but about half the funding went to create multi-jurisdictional task forces.

By 1991, some 904 such task forces had been created.

States were required to match 25 percent of the expenses in order to receive the money, and by 1995, the program had already provided over $500 million in matching grants.

The authors of the working paper—Robynn Cox of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California; and Jamein P. Cunningham, of the Department of Economics at the University of Memphis—studied cities funded under the program between 1987 and 2004, using federal expenditure data from the Consolidated Federal Funds Report and arrest data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

“Our results indicate that for every $100 increase in Byrne grant funding per capita, arrests for drug trafficking increased by roughly 22 per 100,000 white residents and by 101 arrests per 100,000 black residents,” the authors wrote.

These results indicated that “federal funding for the War on Drugs can be linked directly to the increase in racial disparities in arrest, disproportionally affecting blacks,” they added.

The authors said their study was intended to broaden explanations for the rise in mass incarceration in the U.S. since the 1980s by examining the interconnections between federal, state and local policies—and, more specifically, how federal programs such as intergovernmental grants “affected the behavior of local law enforcement, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

“There is…increasing evidence that policies associated with the war on drugs led to increases in incarceration rates, as well as racial disparities within the criminal justice system,” the paper said.

It added that “there is still some debate regarding how mass incarceration happened; specifically, is it attributable to state and federal policies, or is it the result of unchecked actions of local officials (operating under moral hazard), such as prosecutors and police?

“However, so much focus on finding one culprit might downplay just how interconnected federal, state, and local policies are.”

Although the grant program led to an increase in the hiring of police personnel, it did not improve police effectiveness or deterrence, “as measured by total and violent crime rates or arrests for both drugs and violent crimes,” the study said.

A full copy of the report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. We welcome readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Anti-Violence Strategies Boost Confidence in Cops: Study

A two-year study of New York City’s  “Cure Violence” program released Monday also finds significant declines in gun injuries in two violence-plagued neighborhoods.

Gun violence declined significantly in two New York City neighborhoods where community-based “interruptors” are deployed, and the confidence of at-risk young men in police also increased, according to a study released Monday.

The study, “Denormalizing Violence,” looked at data from two troubled neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn where the city had been implementing a strategy called “Cure Violence,” aimed at identifying and engaging persons believed most likely to be involved in gun violence.

Comparing results with similar troubled neighborhoods where the program had not been introduced, researchers found that gun injuries fell 50 per cent in one area (East New York) from 44 to 22, between 2014 and 2016; and dropped from 35 to 13 in the second neighborhood in the South Bronx over the same period.

In both neighborhoods, researchers also found that confidence in police increased by 22% over the same period, measured by responses to questions on whether individuals could “count on police” to help when violence broke out, and whether they would call police if they saw someone beaten or shot.

In neighborhoods where the city anti-violence programs had not been introduced, confidence went up 10% in response to the first question, and 14% in response to the second.

The study, produced by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center in New York, cautioned that the results did not prove a direct link between confidence in police and drops in violence, but it :underscores the strong association between the two, and points to police legitimacy as another important benefit of successful efforts to reduce community violence.”

The Cure Violence programs have been introduced in 17 New York City neighborhoods, as part of a $12.7 million program approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New City Council to expand gun violence prevention strategies. Other elements of the program include job programs, counseling, and legal assistance.

Described as a “place-based, public-health oriented approach to violence reduction,” the program uses outreach workers and “violence interrupters” to intervene directly with individuals considered most likely to become involved in violent disputes.

Between 180-200 respondents were surveyed in each of the neighborhoods.

The results of the study underline the fact that public safety is a “shared responsibility” between police and community residents, said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, in a press release accompanying the studies.

“The success of the Cure Violence program shows that we can work together to co-produce public safety in New York City neighborhoods, and continue to build trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”

The study was conducted by Sheyla A. Delgado, Laila Alsabahi, Kevin Wolff, Nicole Alexander, Patricia Cobar, and Jeffrey A. Butts.

Please click here for the research brief and study results.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Federal Alternative-to-Prison Programs Survive the New Administration?

The future of Obama-era initiatives to offer reduced time for federal offenders if they complete programs of counseling is uncertain, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But it called for more studies of their effectiveness.

Emerging efforts to develop alternatives to incarceration for federal offenders have an uncertain future since drug sentencing guidelines were toughened by the Department of Justice this year, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC).

The charging and sentencing policies outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a May 10 memo “may have the effect of limiting the number of participants in the federal alternative-to-incarceration programs,” the USSC said in a report released this week.

“Without the support of the government, some of these… court programs may cease to exist, at least in their current forms.”

Alternatives-to-Incarceration (ATI) programs, in the form of drug courts, mental health courts and so-called “therapeutic” or “problem-solving” courts have been a fixture on the state judicial landscape for more than two decades.

Since the first drug court was launched in Miami in 1989, over 4,000 such alternative state courts now exist around the U.S.. Today, an estimated 55,000 adult state offenders participate annually in drug courts alone.

The state programs have been supported by national organizations such as the National Center for State Courts and the Conference of Chief Justices. However, they have also raised questions about their effectiveness in treating addiction or reducing recidivism.

At the same time, the USSC noted the “cost savings” realized from reduced prison beds and other factors is one reason they have been supported and promoted as a viable alternative to lengthy terms behind bars.

Nevertheless, such courts have been slow to emerge at the federal level, partly as a result of perceived conflicts with the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and Supreme Court decisions. Today, federal ATI programs operate in 17 districts around the U.S.

Unlike “diversion courts,” which divert individuals to alternative channels such as treatment that will avoid a criminal record, the federal ATI courts offer convicted offenders an opportunity for reduced time if they successfully complete a program of counseling.

The USSC studied five federal ATI programs in an effort to assess their record in reducing recidivism, but concluded that there was still insufficient data to determine their overall success. It observed that the criteria used in evaluating the success of state programs did not automatically translate into evaluations that could be applied at the federal level.

“Proponents of (these) programs have pointed to limited data showing low recidivism rates of graduates of certain programs,” the study said.

“Although important, such data needs to be supplemented with data showing both the long-term recidivism rate of participants who did not successfully complete the programs, and the long-term recidivism rate of a meaningful comparison group of similarly situated offenders who received traditional dispositions of their cases.”

The five programs examined were:

  • South Carolina’s “Bridge Program” for drug abusers, launched in 2010;
  • The Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) program in the Central District of California;
  • The Pretrial Alternatives to Detention Initiative (PADI) in the Central District of Illinois;
  • The Repair, Invest, Succeed, Emerge (RISE) program of the District of Massachusetts;
  • The Sentencing Alternatives Improving Lives (SAIL) program of the Eastern District of Missouri.

Most of the programs involved only small numbers of federal offenders, relative to those charged and sentenced in traditional ways, but USSC staff interviewed judges, attorneys and other stakeholders in an effort to identify the areas that needed further study by social scientists.

The programs were “collegial” in stark contrast to the adversarial nature of federal courts, the USSC said.

“The presiding judge often does not wear a robe and sits at a table with the other team members rather than on the bench, (and the programs) involve weekly or semi-monthly meetings with multiple participating defendants,” the study reported.

Similar to state programs, the federal court teams typically address specific mental health and substance-abuse issues afflicting a defendant, and they work as well to improve defendants’ lives through counseling on family relationships, physical health, education and employment.

Nevertheless, the USSC observed that the handful of evaluations of federal “reentry” court programs so far showed results that were “mixed at best” in terms of their effectiveness and their rehabilitative potential compared to traditional supervisory programs.

The study said the programs needed more examination, for example, of the role of judges in such courts, and an analysis of whether they resulted in genuine cost-savings to taxpayers.

“Not only are the programs relatively new in the federal system and only have graduated a small number of participants to date, they have also developed in a decentralized manner and differ from each other in significant respects,” the USSC said. “Thus they cannot yet be evaluated empirically to determine whether the programs meet their articulated goals.”

The USSC acknowledged that the new Justice Department’s hardline approach to drug sentencing might make such questions academic.

The nascent federal ATI programs are an outgrowth of Obama-era reforms, encouraged by then-Attorney General Eric Holder as a way of prioritizing alternatives to lengthy drug sentences.

But the May 2017 Sessions memo effectively reversed the trend, calling on federal prosecutors to charge and pursue “the most serious, readily provable offense(s)…those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

At the same time, the USCC also noted that any expansion of federal ATI programs could also be hampered by the long-standing opposition in Congress to changing federal sentencing guidelines to encompass alternatives to punishment.

Nevertheless, the USCC made clear that it believed further empirical studies were necessary in order to effectively evaluate whether the programs were worth pursuing on a larger scale—and in particular whether they reduced racial disparities in sentencing.

“The recent emergence of federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs has raised several legal and social-science issues that must be carefully considered and informed by meaningful data before they can be answered by courts and policymakers,” study said.

For the complete version of the USSC report, please click here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Can the U.S. Halt the ‘Unprecedented’ Opioid Epidemic?

The crisis, which took over 64,000 lives last year, shows no sign of abating, according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum. The report, based on an April conference of police chiefs and other law enforcement officials, said innovative strategies such as partnerships between police and healthcare providers could prevent the epidemic from spreading.

Only a concerted nationwide effort involving police, healthcare providers, community leaders and courts can tackle an opioid epidemic that is “unprecedented” in size and scope, according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

Summarizing the recommendations of a conference held in New York City this spring, attended by dozens of police chiefs, sheriffs and federal officials, the report included calls for stepping up data-sharing on opioid users and dealers among law enforcement agencies, and a greater focus on strategies for preventing opioid overdose deaths.

“There is no more important issue in many cities and towns today than the opioids epidemic,” wrote PERF executive director Chuck Wexler in his introduction to the report—the organization’s third major study of the issue—which was released this week.

“Unfortunately, this epidemic is not yet showing signs of abating. So we must continue to expand the programs that we know are working, while reassessing our strategies and searching for new approaches.”

Table displayed at conference showing the rise of drug overdose deaths in New York City, 2010-2016. Photo courtesy PERF

The report cited the most recent figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing 64,070 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016—a 21 percent increase over the year before. About three-quarters of the deaths were caused by opioid drugs, and some 20,145 were directly tied to fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

“We all remember that awful shooting in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub last year, in which 49 people were slaughtered by a madman,” Acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg told the April 6 conference. “Imagine that happening three times a day, every day, for 365 days in a row.

“That’s roughly what we’re talking about with fatal drug overdoses.”

The conference, hosted by the New York Police Department (NYPD), attracted law enforcement officials from across North America, ranging from south Florida, Baltimore and Burlington VT to Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada.

Participants shared strategies they were using to deal with the growth in opioid-related fatalities in their jurisdictions, and almost all emphasized that success depended on working effectively with other community institutions and data systems not normally available to law enforcement.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. Photo courtesy PERF

“This isn’t just a police problem; this is a community challenge,” said Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, “We will only make progress if we work together on multi-disciplinary approaches.”

Brandon Del Pozo, a former New York City detective who now heads the police force in Burlington VT, says he appointed an “opioid policy coordinator” to provide real-time clinical data and work with local doctors in order to help his cops monitor abusers and intervene when necessary.

“Having an opioids policy person working directly in the police department…gives us better credibility,” he said. “So the public health people, instead of saying, ‘Brandon doesn’t get it; he’s a cop,’ realize I have an expert helping me to understand the issues. That helped us get legitimacy.”

Strategies reported by some of the local police chiefs ranged from diversionary treatment to better information sharing. Examples included:

  • The Real Time Crime Center established by Philadelphia police as a portal for information about overdoes reported by hospital emergency rooms and the Medical examiner’s Office;
  • The Cincinnati Fusion Center, which shares overdose data weekly with police officers in southwestern Ohio;
  • The NYPD’s RxStat program, which has been expanded to include timely information-sharing about drug overdoses among senior officials from 25 agencies, including police, probation, health and drug treatment providers.

A 2017 survey of PERF member chiefs found that 63 percent now employ trained officers to carry and administer naloxone—a medication administered by nasal spray that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose and has been shown to save lives.

Naloxone poster used in New York City. Illustration courtesy PERF

That was a sharp contrast to a similar survey in 2014 which found that just four percent of agencies were using the medication.

But the report made clear that such street-level responses needed to be part of a much broader strategy. It recommended 10 steps that police departments and local justice systems could take to improve their ability to cope with the epidemic.

The steps included:

  • Improve data collection, including deploying the Compstat system, currently used nationwide by police departments to monitor crime;
  • Divert opioid users into treatment as an alternative to punishment, noting the consensus of many chiefs that “we cannot arrest our way out of the opioids crisis;”
  • Develop “strategic enforcement and prosecution” strategies such as focusing on high-activity dealers who sell to persons near drug treatment facilities;
  • Establish partnerships with public health agencies, social service providers and treatment providers.

Prosecutors said their efforts had been complicated by the fact that heroin was increasingly available through many other channels—even through social media.

“It isn’t as simple as ‘put a cruiser on the corner and arrest people,’” said Middlesex County, MA District Attorney Marian Ryan. “Today’s users are having heroin delivered to their house.”

Many of the participating chiefs observed that simply cracking down on prescription drug “pill mills” only accelerated individuals’ switch to cheaper heroin.

Louisville, KY Assistant Chief Greg Burns. Photo courtesy PERF

“When we interview drug dealers, they say they give away the heroin…and also tell us that the drug cartels will not give them any other drugs unless they also buy heroin,” said Louisville, KY Assistant Chief of Police Greg Burns.

Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the group that the increase in nonmedical use of prescription drugs appears to have leveled off.

“But unfortunately,” he added. “The fatalities haven’t leveled off, because of the very pure heroin, the fentanyl and the carfentanil, that are killing so many people.”

PERF’s Chuck Wexler said he hoped the report would serve as a “wake-up call” for jurisdictions who had not yet experienced the epidemic in any serious form.

“The…epidemic has caused tremendous hardship in many parts of the United States, especially New England and Appalachia,” he wrote. “But upper-Midwest states, including the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa, and the Western states of California and Oregon, have not yet felt the crisis to the same extent.

“Those states would be well-advised to study the patterns of the epidemic in other locations, and prepare so that they can quickly detect any increases.”

For a full copy of the PERF report, please click here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Executive Editor Stephen Handelman. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org