States Focus on Transparency, Accountability in Police Bodycam Guidelines

Sixteen states have passed laws on body cameras since January 2017, says the Urban Institute. State policies are mixed on who can gain access to the footage and when.

With more police departments requiring their officers to wear cameras, states are continuing to refine their laws governing use of the devices.

Since January 2017 alone, 16 states have passed laws related to body-worn cameras, according to a report issued Monday by The Urban Institute.  Some 12 states have legislation pending

The institute, which has been tracking this legislation,has identified five policy trends related to transparency and accountability, according to report authors Nkechi Erondu and Nancy La Vigne.

Many states are developing model evidence-based policies and standards around camera use. In 2016, several states established commissions, study groups and pilot programs.

In January 2017, the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board issued standards that include requiring law enforcement to inform citizens when they are
being recorded and blocking citizens from reviewing recordings at the scene of an incident.

In the same month, Nebraska passed a policy developed by its Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice governing when and how to use body-worn cameras and regulating the storage and destruction of footage.

There’s no national standard on when footage is considered public record. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have either passed or proposed legislation related
to access.

Only a few states exempt all body-worn camera footage from public records requests; most others have a variety of exemptions associated with disclosure or allow requests on a per-incident basis. Many states don’t allow disclosure of records related to an ongoing criminal investigation or disciplinary action.

Privacy issues continue to surface, Erondu and La Vigne said.

In new laws, personal privacy concerns increasingly are at odds with law enforcement investigative needs, prompting a nationwide conversation on the tradeoffs between transparency and privacy.

Utah has prohibited recordings within hospitals, human services programs, or mental care facilities. Tennessee, Kentucky and Washington exempt from public records
requests depictions of vulnerable individuals, such as sex crime and domestic
violence survivors and minors.

State guidelines regarding officer viewings of body camera footage prior to investigations are rare. The issue is whether officers should be allowed to view footage before writing incident reports or make statements after police-involved shootings and other serious incidents.

Police groups generally favor allowing officers to review footage, so they can obtain the best evidence available. Civil rights advocates oppose it, citing damages to accountability and accuracy. Only Arizona, Florida and the District of Columbia have passed statewide regulations. All allow law enforcement to access footage before making a statement or writing a report.

Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon require law enforcement agencies using body-worn cameras to develop written policies.

In the absence of state laws, local police departments have considerable discretion. In Tucson, Az., for example, the police department allows anyone to request footage, and access is automatically granted if the request complies with the state’s public records law.

Legal cases are also shaping policy. In August, a circuit court judge ordered the Mobile, Al., police department to release footage depicting an officer pepper-spraying high school students to WALA-TV/FOX 10 News, but said his ruling did not set a precedent for all body camera videos.

Erondu and La Vigne urged states to “enact legislation that is both responsive to
the demands of community stakeholders and considers evolving technological advancements.”

“Striking the right balance between flexibility in local implementation and comprehensive and uniform standards will be critical in ensuring body-worn cameras enhance transparency and accountability,” they wrote.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.


Do The Nation’s Prosecutors Need Help?

As reform candidates for district attorney are winning office in several cities, it’s time for a new look at the role of prosecutors in the justice system, a Washington DC panel was told Thursday.

Despite their undeniable power over criminal cases, many prosecutors are overworked, understaffed, and in need of guidance from researchers.

That was how some experts portrayed them at a conference held Thursday by the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academy of Sciences.

The committee has sponsored studies of many criminal justice issues over the years, but it has been 17 years since it published the results of a workshop on “What’s Changing in Prosecution?

Thursday’s session was aimed at giving the panel an update on how the role of prosecutors is evolving.

“We know surprisingly little” about prosecutors, even though they are an important component of the justice system, said Jeremy Travis of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a sponsor of the Law and Justice Committee.

That assessment was echoed by Miranda Galvin, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, who summarized research on prosecutorial issues for the committee.

“Prosecutors’ offices are still largely unknown quantities,” she said.

Speakers at the meeting agreed that now is a good time to focus on prosecutors, as candidates in several jurisdictions have been elected district attorneys on reform platforms.

“Prosecutors are getting attention in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Jamila Hodge, who runs the Reshaping Prosecution program at the Vera Institute of Justice, which was established, according to its website, to help prosecutors understand how their decisions can “lead to the overuse of incarceration, racial disparities, or practices that erode public trust.”

Representatives of organizations that specialize in prosecution issues told the committee that prosecutors need up-to-date research to help them make decisions, especially on many lower-level criminal cases that don’t necessarily warrant a prison term.

Although judges make ultimate decisions on sentencing, more than 90 percent of U.S. criminal  cases are resolved through plea bargains, meaning that prosecutors have a great deal of leverage over the penalty that is imposed.

Many prosecutors have large caseloads and hold their jobs only for a few years, and as a consequence they lack experience on sentencing alternatives, said David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. (Criminal defense attorneys have made similar complaints about caseloads.)

Better research is particularly needed on the efficacy of “diversion” programs, in which prosecutors may agree to putting a defendant in some kind of rehabilitation program without bringing the case to court, said Kristine Hamann of the Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence, which works with district attorneys’ state organizations.

The U.S. Justice Department’s research arm, the National Institute of Justice, has commissioned several study projects involving prosecutors, the agency’s Howard Spivak told the committee.

One of them is a “sentinel event analysis” in which major justice system errors are analyzed in an effort prevent their recurrence.

(See “Looking Beyond the ‘White Bear’ in Criminal Justice,” The Crime Report.)

Still, considerable research on how prosecutors operate remains to be done, experts and committee members said.

Travis of the Arnold Foundation suggested, for example, examining the large role elected prosecutors  play in determining prison and jail populations in their areas.

Travis noted that while he served as president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., started an Institute for Innovation in Prosecution to serve as a “national laboratory” for improving prosecution practices. (See John Jay College, Manhattan DA Start Think Tank to Study Prosecutors.)

Based partly on Thursday’s session, the National Academy of Sciences’ committee will decide whether to launch a new study of U.S. prosecutors.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Violent Crime Rate Dropped Slightly Last Year, FBI Says

Murders also dropped slightly from 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spoken frequently about reports of rising crime numbers and has warned that the crime decline had “ominously reversed,” didn’t issue an immediate comment.

After two consecutive years of increases, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased 0.2 percent last year compared with 2016, said the FBI in its annual report on “Crime in the United States,” released on Monday.

Property crimes dropped 3 percent, marking the 15th consecutive year that category declined.

Taking a look at 5- and 10-year trends, the 2017 estimated violent crime total was 6.8 percent above the 2013 level but 10.6 percent below the 2008 level, the FBI said.

The data were released as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which compiles reports submitted voluntarily by local law enforcement agencies.

It differs from the U.S. Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime based on interviews with U.S. residents on whether they had been victimized in the previous year.

Because much crime is not reported, the victim survey reports much higher numbers. Its estimate for violent crimes around the nation for 2016, the latest available, was 5.7 million incidents. the FBI number for 2017 released on Monday was 1,247,321.

Of the 18,547 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR annual report, 16,655 submitted data in 2017.

Among violent crimes in the FBI report, the estimated number of robberies fell four percent last year. The estimated number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter offenses decreased 0.7 percent from 2016.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University last week predicted that the murder rate in the largest 29 U.S. cities would drop 7.6 percent in 2018 over the previous year. The FBI compilation for this year won’t be issued for another year.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spoken frequently about reports of rising crime numbers, didn’t issue an immediate comment on the FBI data.

In a speech last week to an Illinois conference, he noted that after several years of declining nationally, “in the last two years of the previous administration, the trends ominously reversed. From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Assaults and rape went up nearly 10 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.”

Speaking in the Chicago area, Sessions lamented that, “more people were murdered in Chicago in 2016 than in New York and Los Angeles combined—even though Chicago has one-fifth of the population of those two cities.”

The Brennan Center report projected that Chicago murders would decline this year to 515, much lower than last year’s 671 but still almost as high as New York and Los Angeles’ combined 574.

In Monday’s FBI compilation for 2017, reported aggravated assaults and rapes increased one and 2.5 percent respectively.

The FBI changed the definition of rape in 2013, effective last year. The term “forcible” was removed from the offense name, and the definition was changed to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Nationwide last year, the FBI reported an estimated 7,694,086 property crimes.

Burglaries dropped 7.6 percent and larceny-thefts decreased 2.2 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 0.8 percent. Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.3 billion.

In its report based on victimization interviews, DOJ estimated 15.9 million property crimes in 2016.

The FBI estimated that law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10,554,985 arrests in 2017 (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2017. That was a slight decrease from the 10,662,252 arrests reported for 2016.

Some 45.6 percent of violent crimes were cleared by police through arrests or identification of suspects. That was the same percentage reported in 2016.

In 2017, 13,128 law enforcement agencies reported staffing levels. As of October 31, 2017, they employed 670,279 sworn officers and 286,662 civilians—a rate of 3.4 employees per 1,000 inhabitants.

The FBI started a Crime Data Explorer (CDE) on June 30, 2017, to help users more easily find data in UCR system. The CDE is a web-based, interactive environment where users can query, view and download crime data.

Ted Gest is Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report and president of Criminal Justice Journalists.


Justice Reformers, ‘Fueled by Sense of Urgency,’ Vow to End Status Quo

Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western, leaders of the so-called Square One Project, say their project will sponsor a series of roundtables across the nation aimed at transforming the justice system. According to Travis, the status quo in criminal justice is “profoundly unacceptable.”

A new push to “reimagine” the criminal justice system is “fueled by a sense of urgency” that the status quo in criminal justice is “profoundly unacceptable,” says Jeremy Travis of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Jeremy Travis. Courtesy John Jay College

Travis, former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Bruce Western, now of Columbia University’s Justice Lab, led a study by a National Academy of Sciences panel four years ago that traced the sharp growth in incarceration in the United States since the 1970s.

Now, Travis and Western are leaders of a new effort funded by the Arnold Foundation along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations that was formally launched on Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The so-called Square One Project, promoting the idea that the justice system should be redesigned from “square one,” consists of two primary segments—an “executive session on the future of justice policy” that will help generate “a new narrative of justice in America,” and a series of roundtables across the nation to hold open discussions of key criminal justice issues.

Travis and Western made clear that the new project was conceived as a follow-up to their study on the nation’s prison growth. (It was the same issue—the fact that more than two million people are locked up in prisons and jails—that prompted former U.S. Sen. James Webb to promote the so-far-unsuccessful idea of a new national crime commission.)

Western noted on Thursday that since the National Academy of Sciences study was issued, the U.S. incarceration rate has declined a bit but remains far above the level of the mid-1970s.

In a paper on criminal justice reform issued as the new project began, Western cited “a large racial disparity: black men are five to six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men.”

Despite a series of criminal justice reforms in recent years, the fact remains that “prison populations are extraordinarily large and criminal justice agencies are focused in myriad ways on the task of punishment,” Western said.

Bruce Western

Bruce Western

One focus of the “reimagining” justice project will be on the intersection of three problems: racial inequalities, poverty and violence, Western explained.

He wrote that poor neighborhoods must “contend with violence” and that “violence can flourish where poverty has depleted a neighborhood of steady employment community organizations, and a stable population that can monitor street life.”

The first roundtable sponsored by the project, to be held in October at North Carolina Central University in Durham, will concern issues involving race and criminal justice.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Another strand of the project discussed on Thursday was a “call for a revised set of values in criminal justice” from Arthur Rizer of the R Street Institute, a research organization that describes its aim as helping “to promote free markets and limited, effective government.”

Rizer published a paper for the project advocating application of the limited government concept to criminal justice. He contends that “the overcriminalization and overincarceration of justice-involved individuals has resulted in the depletion of state coffers across the nation.”

“Local, state, and federal policymakers should be continuously seeking … to increase an individual’s likelihood of rehabilitation and, therefore, to reduce crime while wisely stewarding taxpayer dollars,” Rizer argues.

Travis stressed that a goal of the project, which is scheduled to last for three years, will be to “build a network” of people nationwide who will press for more effective criminal justice practices.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.


Square One Project to ‘Reimagine’ Criminal Justice

Two major foundations, the Laura and John Arnold and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, along with Columbia University’s Justice Lab, are starting a new project to examine “if we start over from ‘square one,” how would justice policy be different?”

Two major foundations are funding a project they hope will “reimagine” the criminal justice system by discussing ways to “start over from ‘square one.’ ”

The Laura and John Arnold and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, along with Columbia University’s Justice Lab, will formally launch the Square One Justice project on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

As outlined on the project’s website, it “is taking on the fundamental issues: poverty and racial inequality, violence and safety, criminalization and punishment.

“We’re challenging traditional responses to crime, and looking in new places for more effective responses, by asking a new question: if we start over from ‘square one,’ how would justice policy be different?

The project’s sponsors contend that justice should be “created” in “neighborhoods that suffer from injustice and that deserve public safety that works.”

They contend that “the left, the right, and everyone in between agrees we need this to happen–and now is the time.”

Project leaders do not declare that they have the solutions to problems in the justice system, but they want to “incubate new thinking on our response to crime, promote more effective strategies, and contribute to a new narrative of justice in America.”

The Square One Justice project will include two new programs to help achieve its goals.

An “Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy,” backed by from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, will assemble about two dozen researchers, practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and community representatives to “generate and cultivate new ideas.”

This group will meet in an “off-the-record setting” twice annually to examine research, consider new concepts, and discuss proposals from group members.

The session will publish papers to “catalyze thinking and policy reform that can reduce incarceration and develop new responses to violence and other social problems that can emerge under conditions of poverty and racial inequality.”

The project identified members of the executive session, who include Harvard Prof. Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Columbia’s Justice Lab, Jeremy Travis of the Arnold Foundation, former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute, retired federal judge Nancy Gertner of Boston, and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, among others.

A separate program, called the “Roundtable on the Future of Justice Policy,” funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is a series of public, live-streamed forums involving leaders, community members, academics, and other experts to talk about discussion papers by leading researchers.

Sponsors say the papers will be “designed to spark transformational thinking about what we can expect for our communities and our justice system … creating a public record for learning and sharing information about what a new “square one” might look like.”

The first roundtable will take place Oct. 11-13 at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, N.C., with the title, “Examining the History of Racial and Economic Inequality: Implications for Justice Policy and Practice.”

The Square One Justice project will be directed by Katharine Huffman of the Washington, D.C.-based Raben Group. She is a former state affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance and a former Soros Justice Fellow at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The new project is one of a number of efforts in the last few years to examine broad aspects of the justice system.

These include three described last year in The Crime Report: the publication of more than 50 papers on criminal justice in a project called the “Academy of Justice” sponsored by the Koch Institute, an American Society of Criminology review of the LBJ-era commission on crime and justice, assessing what a modern-day commission could accomplish, and a parallel review of the LBJ commission on its 50th anniversary, led by the George Washington University law school.


Iowan Dummermuth Heads DOJ Justice Programs Agency

The Trump administration names Matt Dummermuth, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, to head the Justice Department branch that includes six agencies, including the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and National Institute of Justice.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has a new leader.

The Trump administration named Matt Dummermuth, who was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa during the George W. Bush administration, to the job.

Dummermuth replaces Alan Hanson, who headed the agency since Donald Trump became president. Hanson left recently for the Department of Transportation. He never was nominated by the White House to serve as Assistant Attorney General, the formal title of the agency’s director.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) includes six agencies well known in criminal justice. They are the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which gives anticrime grants to states and localities; the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART office, which administers federal programs on sex offender sentencing, monitoring, apprehending, registering, and tracking.

Laura Rogers, director of the SMART agency, has served as the acting head of OJP since Hanson’s departure in July, as reported in The Crime Report.

In a memo to OJP staff members, Rogers said Dummermuth as U.S. Attorney “supervised criminal prosecutions of drug trafficking, child exploitation and financial fraud, and orchestrated the nation’s most successful criminal immigration worksite enforcement action. He also created the first human trafficking task force in Iowa, bringing together law enforcement and victim service providers.”

On LinkedIn, Dummermuth said that until recently he was a partner in the law firm of Hagenow Gustoff & Dummermuth, LLP, leading its eastern Iowa office in Cedar Rapids.

He did not mention his criminal justice experience, noting that he handles “government litigation, including constitutional and civil rights issues, as well as investigations and regulatory matters.”

Dummermuth said that as a seventh-generation Iowan “still actively involved with my family’s livestock and crop farm, I have significant interest, background, and experience in agricultural law, handling matters ranging from commercial litigation and regulatory compliance to complex business and estate planning.”

There was no immediate indication whether Dummermuth has any possibility of being nominated to head the agency, which requires Senate confirmation.

That may depend on the future of his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who President Trump has indicated may be fired after the November elections.

One of Dummermuth’s major challenges may be to help determine whether federal anticrime funds will be given to “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. That issue is pending in several federal courts.


A New Way to Forecast State Prison Populations

The Urban Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union have developed companion tools aimed at helping states understand the factors that drive their prison populations, and fashion policies that can reduce them without affecting public safety. The ACLU says its tool can help produce “transformational change” in the nation’s prison system.

With more than two million Americans behind prison and jail bars on any given day, many state leaders have been struggling with how to reduce that total while maintaining public safety.

The Urban Institute released on Wednesday a new tool allowing users to project prison populations state-by-state by experimenting with different variables.

In partnership with the institute, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) simultaneously issued “blueprints” that 24 states could use to cut their inmate totals by 50 percent in the coming years. The ACLU will release similar plans for the other states later.

Imprisonment is mainly a state issue, although the federal government also maintains a large prison system.

The Urban Institute notes that “every state has its own unique set of factors and challenges that contribute to mass incarceration,” adding that “there is no one-size-fits-all national solution for reducing the total number of people in prison.”

The institute offers a few examples. In Arizona, reducing admissions for drug offenses by 50 percent would lead to an 11.7 percent decrease in the state’s prison population by 2025.

Doing the same thing in California would lead to only a 1.5 percent decline in inmate numbers in the next seven years.

Much of the discussion in recent years about reducing mass incarceration has focused on non-violent crimes.

The institute says that violent offenses are major drivers of states’ prison populations, and those populations can’t be substantially reduced without dealing with such offenses.

In Minnesota, cutting the length of prison terms for violent offenses in half would reduce the population nearly 25 percent by 2025. A similar reduction for property-crime offenses would lead only to a 5 percent decrease.

Large reductions in a state’s prison population would produce “significant savings in correctional spending, which frees up resources for investment in other public safety priorities such as crime prevention,” the institute says.

Conversely, increasing prison admissions for drug offenses by 50 percent would add $83.7 million to Illinois’ correctional budget, and $150.1 million to Texas’, the institute says.

The institute cautions that reducing the prison population does little to reduce the proportion of the prison population made up of people of color, and in some cases would worsen the racial disparities in incarceration.

As of 2016, there were 487,300 blacks, 440,200 whites and 339,600 Hispanics in state prisons, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The totals for African Americans  and Hispanics far exceeded their proportion of the national population.

The ACLU says that its blueprints based on the Urban Institute’s new tool are the “first-ever analysis of its kind and will serve as a tool for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system.”

Each blueprint analyzes who is being sent to jail and prison, racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the justice system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long.

Among examples the ACLU offers:

  • In Louisiana, more than one-third of new prison admissions in 2016 were were convicted of property offenses, and thirty percent of admissions were for drug offenses. Louisiana, which already has passed legislation aimed at cutting prison numbers, could also reclassify drug and many property offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies.
  • In Pennsylvania,  the number of people entering prison for parole violations grew by 56.5 percent between 2006 and 2016. That state could focus on reforms that would drive down the number of people sent to prison due to violations of probation supervision.

The material issued on Wednesday differs from a 50-state report on public safety put out this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which was billed as including “tools and strategies to help states reduce crime, recidivism, and costs.”

That report presented more than 300 “data visualizations” comparing crime, recidivism and correctional practices across all 50 states.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.


DOJ Backs Down on Justice Reinvestment

The Justice Department had announced a new direction for the justice reinvestment program that encourages states to cut prison populations. The proposal has been withdrawn after advocates of reinvestment sought support from key members of Congress.

The U.S. Justice Department has withdrawn a controversial proposal to change the direction of the justice reinvestment program (JRI) that federal policymakers have supported for the last 11 years.

JRI encourages states to reduce their prison populations and reinvest money that is saved in programs that help departing inmates reenter society.

As The Crime Report described last month, after unsuccessfully persuading Congress to kill federal involvement in JRI, the Justice Department issued a request for proposals on June 28 for a “Justice Accountability Initiative” that DOJ developed, apparently to replace the kind of work that had been done by JRI over the years.

Proposals by outside contractors to take part in the new program were due on July 30.

Now, the DOJ plan has disappeared from the department’s website.

In its place is an announcement that a new solicitation for proposals “will be reposted shortly. Applicants will be provided with ample time to submit complete, competitive applications. Please check back in this space for JRI grant opportunities.”

The Justice Department has not made a public comment on the reason for the withdrawal, but several sources said that advocates of justice reinvestment had approached members of Congress who support JRI, contending that DOJ was not proceeding in line with expectations of lawmakers.

After the White House sought to zero out federal support for the program, the appropriations subcommittees in each House that handle the Justice Department’ budget each voted to recommend spending more than $20 million on JRI in the spending year that begins on October 1.

Congress is yet to approve a final budget, but approval by appropriations panels in both houses for a particular program means that it can expect to be funded.

JRI has been managed in recent years by the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Crime & Justice Institute.

Members of Congress were not immediately available to comment on the Justice Department’s latest move on justice reinvestment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House subcommittee handling Justice Department appropriations, are among many legislators who have supported JRI.

Earlier this year, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Tom Marino (R-PA) led a group of 68 House members who declared their support for JRI.

In its proposal that was withdrawn, DOJ sought proposals for research that would focus on reducing recidivism of state prison inmates.

The DOJ document noted that Congress has said that it intends JRI to fund “activities related to criminal justice reform and recidivism reduction.”

The DOJ wanted to start pilot projects that would improve risk assessment tools that are now being tested to predict repeat criminality among those on probation.

It was not immediately clear whether the revised Justice Department plan for JRI would include such a new effort aimed at recidivism reduction.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


50-State Report Offers ‘Playbook’ on Meeting Public Safety Challenges

The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) has issued what it calls a first-of-its-kind, web-based resource combining data analyses, case studies and recommended strategies for all 50 states to help policymakers address public safety challenges. Among its major points: violent crime rates decreased in 32 states between 2006 and 2016, and the number of drug overdose deaths is now almost four times higher than the number of homicides.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center has issued what it calls a first-of-its-kind, web-based resource combining data analyses, case studies and recommended strategies for all 50 states to help policymakers address public safety challenges.

The “50-State Report on Public Safety” includes more than 300 “data visualizations” comparing crime, recidivism and correctional practices across all 50 states.

The report discusses these data along with research on strategies aimed at improving public safety, giving more than 100 examples of public safety innovations drawn from every state.

The center says the report “provides a playbook that policymakers can customize to tackle the issues most relevant to their communities.”

Megan Quattlebaum, director of the center said that, “Data and research are essential to successfully addressing the unique conditions in each state.”

The report was promised at a 50-state summit held in Washington, D.C., last fall, at which officials were given preliminary data compilations from their states. (See coverage in The Crime Report). The summit was sponsored by the CSG and the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

Following up on the summit, the CSG Justice Center is working with more than 15 states to hold statewide forums on public safety with a broad coalition of stakeholders.

“There is no shortage of information to examine and consider when it comes to public safety,” Bryan Collier, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the center. “

As the head of a state corrections agency, digesting all of the available data can be overwhelming. The 50-State Report on Public Safety organizes a wealth of criminal justice information in one place, creating an important resource that is without equal in its size and scope.”

Among the report’s major points:

  • Between 2006 and 2016, violent crime rates decreased in 32 states. Violent crime increased in rural areas in 16 states.
  • The number of drug overdose deaths is almost four times higher than the number of homicides. Two decades ago, the numbers were about the same.
  • In 2015, states spend nearly 10 times as much on prisons as on community supervision of offenders, although there were 4.5 million people on probation and parole and 1.5 million in state prisons.
  • Most states track recidivism of people leaving prison. Thirty-two states use a narrow definition of the term that includes only people who are reincarcerated, not all rearrests and reconvictions.
  • Corrections populations increased in the last decade in 42 states, and 24 states project growth in prison populations.

According to a press release from the center, Alabama state Sen. Cam Ward praised the report, saying that it “gives policymakers a blueprint for achieving results, and the strategies offered here will be useful for years to come.”

Funding for the 50-State Report on Public Safety was provided by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.


Miami Center to Treat Mentally Ill Crime Suspects

Miami soon will open the nation’s first “forensic diversion” center for mentally ill people who otherwise would be destined for the criminal justice system, says Judge Steven Leifman, who has long advocated for defendants with mental problems. Leifman addressed the annual forum of the National Criminal Justice Association in Fort Worth, Texas.

Miami soon will open the nation’s first “forensic diversion” center for mentally ill people who otherwise would be destined for the criminal justice system, says Judge Steven Leifman, who has long advocated for defendants with mental problems. Leifman addressed the annual forum of the National Criminal Justice Association, which is meeting in Fort Worth, Texas. Leifman has described the facility as a 180,000-square-foot, stand-alone treatment center for the acutely mentally ill. It was funded by a $42 million county bond issue. Miami’s courts, which have been national leaders in improving the handling of crime suspects with mental problems, already have reduced the recidivism rate of such defendants from 72 percent to 20 percent by sending them promptly to medical units rather than jailing them, Leifman said.

Leifman, who has worked on issues of mental illness in his 18 years on the bench in Miami, say that so many sick people are jailed since the U.S. closed many mental hospitals decades ago that cities are being forced to choose between building schools or jails. Florida may have to build new prisons to accommodate the need to house mentally ill inmates, he said. (Leifman spoke on the same issue at a conference this month at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.) The justice association devoted the first morning of its conference to the problems involved in justice system handling of mentally ill defendants. In a discussion after Leifman spoke, experts discussed a process called “sequential intercepts” that attempts to insure that mentally ill suspects get immediate attention at various steps in the criminal justice process. Deputy Sheriff David Rhodes of Yavapai County, Ariz., urged justice leaders to “establish a sense of urgency” about improving the treatment of mentally ill people encountered  by law enforcement. He said that too often, jails release such suspects at odd hours with no prospect of getting medical help.