Who’s Enforcing Our Environmental Laws?

The short answer, writes an environmental attorney, is no one. The White House proposal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent next year has fueled calls for states and private agencies to take on the burden of policing polluters—which he argues will have only limited impact.

Ask anyone in the industry, or check the record: No one is enforcing our environmental laws.

Whether or not that was the goal of the Trump Administration, it certainly seems to be one of the effects of its recent moves, beginning with the appointment of Scott Pruitt last year to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt was an outspoken critic of the EPA when he was Oklahoma Attorney General.

The White House earlier this year proposed a 31 percent cut in the EPA’s budget for 2018. While the budget was not slashed nearly as much as proposed, we can expect a significant decrease in the criminal enforcement of the federal environmental laws, as well as a decrease in the civil enforcement of these same laws.

Under federal law, there are supposed to be 200 EPA criminal agents (out in the field investigating environmental crimes). These agents interview people, examine documents, and perform surveillance, similar to the duties other law enforcement officers perform in the investigation of criminal activity.

That’s still only about three-quarters of what Congress has statutorily mandated. The number of EPA enforcement agents has not been at the congressionally mandated level for years. Based upon early indications, it will not reach that congressionally mandated level at all during the Trump Administration.

Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project documented the significant decline in environmental enforcement during the first six months of the Trump Administration.

Why does this matter?

Nothing compares to the power and weight that the federal government brings to a criminal investigation of a company, individual or industry.

In the pre-Trump era, criminal enforcement was an effective tool to protect our waterways, lands and forests. According to the EPA’s own statistics, during 2017, the agency had a 94 percent conviction rate and won 79 percent of the cases that went to trial.

When a search warrant is issued, charges result about 70 percent of the time. Roughly 85 percent of those who were charged were individuals, and the remainder were corporate violators. While those numbers may seem high (and they are comfortable numbers if you are a prosecutor), the percentages do not tell the whole story. The number of cases being made by the fewer and fewer criminal investigators will tend to skew the percentages.

All the same, the industry should not get too comfortable. While the likelihood of being criminally investigated by the federal government may be reduced, enforcement of state environmental criminal laws continue—but will also be less because much of the EPA budget is in the form of grants to the states for enforcement purposes.

There are also mechanisms for private party enforcement under federal environmental laws.

In states where an environmental law program has been delegated, the state shares in the opportunity to bring criminal charges. Nonetheless, state criminal enforcement of the environmental laws is almost non-existent.

This is due to a number of historical factors as well as money considerations.

For years, all environmental criminal charges had to run through the Department of Justice’s environmental and natural resources division. Not even local United States Attorneys were allowed to bring the case.

That has changed over the years. However, based in part on this historical development, the states have largely stayed out of the environmental criminal enforcement arena. The states are more apt to bring a civil enforcement action.

In most states now, though, the environmental agency is constrained by budgetary considerations and as a result, enforcement is an afterthought.

Could private, non-governmental organizations take up the slack by intensifying enforcement efforts under the citizen suit provisions of federal environmental statutes?

The major environmental statutes allow private party enforcement, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substance Control Act. And there are few limitations on who can pursue a citizen suit.

The concept of “standing” is a hurdle (and always has been), but it is not an insurmountable hurdle. Then there is the required notice to the government and prospective defendants of the alleged violations before filing the citizen suit.

In the absence of a government response and enforcement, the citizen suit may proceed. The citizen suit plaintiff may also be allowed the recovery of its attorneys’ fees. Citizen suits are no substitute for having a robust criminal enforcement program at the federal level.

Walter James

Walter James III

Most importantly from an enforcement standpoint, no one can go to jail as a result of a citizen suit, no matter what the outcome. The citizen suit is about enforcing compliance with a statutory provision. Essentially only money, not freedom, is at stake.

Robust criminal enforcement of the environmental laws is critical.

The federal government’s ability to pursue a criminal investigation against environmental violators is just too important a tool to be abandoned or left to the states or citizens.

Congress will need to provide oversight and pass a budget for 2019 that provides for a more robust enforcement of our environmental laws. After all, the Republican Party is the party of law enforcement – right?

Walter D. James III is an attorney whose practice focuses primarily on environmental counseling and environmental litigation, which includes civil enforcement and environmental criminal defense. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Who’s Enforcing Our Environmental Laws?

The short answer, writes an environmental attorney, is no one. The White House proposal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent next year has fueled calls for states and private agencies to take on the burden of policing polluters—which he argues will have only limited impact.

Ask anyone in the industry, or check the record: No one is enforcing our environmental laws.

Whether or not that was the goal of the Trump Administration, it certainly seems to be one of the effects of its recent moves, beginning with the appointment of Scott Pruitt last year to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt was an outspoken critic of the EPA when he was Oklahoma Attorney General.

The White House earlier this year proposed a 31 percent cut in the EPA’s budget for 2018. While the budget was not slashed nearly as much as proposed, we can expect a significant decrease in the criminal enforcement of the federal environmental laws, as well as a decrease in the civil enforcement of these same laws.

Under federal law, there are supposed to be 200 EPA criminal agents (out in the field investigating environmental crimes). These agents interview people, examine documents, and perform surveillance, similar to the duties other law enforcement officers perform in the investigation of criminal activity.

That’s still only about three-quarters of what Congress has statutorily mandated. The number of EPA enforcement agents has not been at the congressionally mandated level for years. Based upon early indications, it will not reach that congressionally mandated level at all during the Trump Administration.

Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project documented the significant decline in environmental enforcement during the first six months of the Trump Administration.

Why does this matter?

Nothing compares to the power and weight that the federal government brings to a criminal investigation of a company, individual or industry.

In the pre-Trump era, criminal enforcement was an effective tool to protect our waterways, lands and forests. According to the EPA’s own statistics, during 2017, the agency had a 94 percent conviction rate and won 79 percent of the cases that went to trial.

When a search warrant is issued, charges result about 70 percent of the time. Roughly 85 percent of those who were charged were individuals, and the remainder were corporate violators. While those numbers may seem high (and they are comfortable numbers if you are a prosecutor), the percentages do not tell the whole story. The number of cases being made by the fewer and fewer criminal investigators will tend to skew the percentages.

All the same, the industry should not get too comfortable. While the likelihood of being criminally investigated by the federal government may be reduced, enforcement of state environmental criminal laws continue—but will also be less because much of the EPA budget is in the form of grants to the states for enforcement purposes.

There are also mechanisms for private party enforcement under federal environmental laws.

In states where an environmental law program has been delegated, the state shares in the opportunity to bring criminal charges. Nonetheless, state criminal enforcement of the environmental laws is almost non-existent.

This is due to a number of historical factors as well as money considerations.

For years, all environmental criminal charges had to run through the Department of Justice’s environmental and natural resources division. Not even local United States Attorneys were allowed to bring the case.

That has changed over the years. However, based in part on this historical development, the states have largely stayed out of the environmental criminal enforcement arena. The states are more apt to bring a civil enforcement action.

In most states now, though, the environmental agency is constrained by budgetary considerations and as a result, enforcement is an afterthought.

Could private, non-governmental organizations take up the slack by intensifying enforcement efforts under the citizen suit provisions of federal environmental statutes?

The major environmental statutes allow private party enforcement, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Toxic Substance Control Act. And there are few limitations on who can pursue a citizen suit.

The concept of “standing” is a hurdle (and always has been), but it is not an insurmountable hurdle. Then there is the required notice to the government and prospective defendants of the alleged violations before filing the citizen suit.

In the absence of a government response and enforcement, the citizen suit may proceed. The citizen suit plaintiff may also be allowed the recovery of its attorneys’ fees. Citizen suits are no substitute for having a robust criminal enforcement program at the federal level.

Walter James

Walter James III

Most importantly from an enforcement standpoint, no one can go to jail as a result of a citizen suit, no matter what the outcome. The citizen suit is about enforcing compliance with a statutory provision. Essentially only money, not freedom, is at stake.

Robust criminal enforcement of the environmental laws is critical.

The federal government’s ability to pursue a criminal investigation against environmental violators is just too important a tool to be abandoned or left to the states or citizens.

Congress will need to provide oversight and pass a budget for 2019 that provides for a more robust enforcement of our environmental laws. After all, the Republican Party is the party of law enforcement – right?

Walter D. James III is an attorney whose practice focuses primarily on environmental counseling and environmental litigation, which includes civil enforcement and environmental criminal defense. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sessions Backs Stronger DEA Role in Combating Opioid Crisis

The Attorney General tells a news conference that “effective enforcement” should be a priority for new legislation. He also announced a new DEA Division for the Appalachian region, and the appointment of Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, to oversee White House initiatives to combat opioid abuse. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he is “dubious” of a 2016 law that effectively took away the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most potent weapons against distributors and manufacturers of prescription opioids, and that he would support new legislation to expand the agency’s arsenal, reports the Washington Post.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sessions said that the DEA faced more challenges than it would have “had the law not passed” and that he would support a new law “to make sure we’re fully able to carry out effective enforcement policies.” The remarks came after Sessions and acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson laid out steps they plan to take in an effort to stem the opioid crisis.

Sessions announced $12 million in grants and a new DEA division overseeing the Appalachian region to help law enforcement officials combat illicit drugs, especially prescription opioids, and said he has directed his U.S. attorneys to designate an opioid coordinator in their offices. DEA will establish its new division, the Louisville Field Division, on Jan. 1 to unify its drug trafficking investigations, officials said.

The division will include Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, will have about 90 special agents and 130 task-force officers, and focus on illicit drug trafficking in the Appalachian Mountains. Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, has been tasked with overseeing White House initiatives to combat opioid abuse. “The president has made this a White House priority. He’s asked her to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House,” Sessions said, calling Conway “exceedingly talented.”

Sessions’s announcement was the latest DOJ action regarding the increase in opioid-related overdose deaths. Earlier this month, the department announced a change in the way fentanyl is classified so that anyone who possesses, imports, distributes or manufactures a fentanyl-related substance can be criminally prosecuted.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Names Ex-Hudson Institute’s Anderson to Head BJS

Jeffrey H. Anderson, a conservative scholar chosen by President Trump to head the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, has no apparent experience in the field.

President Trump has announced his intention to appoint a director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) who has no apparent experience in the field.

He’s Jeffrey H. Anderson, a former senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who is described by the White House as a “constitutional scholar” and a “leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.”

Jeffrey Anderson

Jeffrey H. Anderson. Photo courtesy Hudson Institute

Anderson is a former political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Later he directed the 2017 Project with conservative writer William Kristol, where the White House says he “advanced creative proposals, including Main Street-oriented health-care, tax, and immigration reform.”

This year, the Trump administration named him to direct the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the White House said he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”

The only statistical experience cited by the White House in Anderson’s background was co-creating the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings, which boast of computing college football’s “most accurate strength of schedule ratings,” taking into account the quality of teams’ opponents.

The BJS directorship once required Senate confirmation, but Congress changed the law in 2012 and made the job a presidential appointment.

BJS, established in 1979, says its mission is “to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government.”

It is perhaps most well known for the annual publication of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime through interviews with Americans on whether they were victims of crime in the previous year.

The report is considered more complete than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report because it includes the many offenses not reported to law enforcement agencies.

BJS directors under President Obama, James Lynch of the University of Maryland and William Sabol, now of Georgia State University, both were long-time criminologists and recognized experts in crime and justice statistics.

In May, under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, four former BJS directors wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging that “serious consideration” to head BJS, which operates in Sessions’ Department of Justice, “to individuals who have strong leadership, management, and scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community; ability to interact productively with Congress and senior DOJ staff; and acceptance of the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.”

The letter was signed by Lynch, Sabol, Jeffrey Sedgwick, who served as BJS director in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration and now directs the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and Lawrence Greenfeld, who headed BJS in the first five years of the Bush administration.

Anderson does not appear to have any of those qualifications.

The same four recent BJS directors wrote in May to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees arguing that the requirement for Senate confirmation for the BJS director should “be restored and that the director’s status be changed from serving at the will of the president to serving a fixed term of at least four years, staggered from the presidential election.”

The ex-directors said in their letter: “It is imperative that policy discussions about the often-contentious issues regarding crime and justice be informed by statistical data trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable…”

“To ensure BJS data are viewed as objective and of highest quality, BJS must be seen as an independent statistical agency wherein data collection, analysis, and dissemination are under the sole control of the BJS.”

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Conservatives Pressure Sessions on Hillary Clinton

From President Trump to Fox News, conservatives are making increasingly personal attacks on the Attorney General. “Resign if you won’t do the job,” said lawyer Larry Klayman, whose Freedom Watch is suing to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Russia probe.

Frustration is mounting on the right over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s apparent reluctance to open investigations into Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, The Hill reports. President Trump has expressed his disappointment in Sessions and what he views as the attorney general’s needless recusal of himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, which paved the way for the special counsel investigation that is probing the Trump campaign. Conservative media have started to join in, with Fox News anchors, analysts and pundits cutting loose on Sessions with stinging and increasingly personal attacks. GOP lawmakers and conservative operatives say several issues are ripe for investigation, from reports that the Clinton campaign had inappropriate power over the Democratic National Committee during the primaries to allegations about the sale of a uranium mining company to a Russian state-owned firm.

They believe Sessions has everything he needs to start dropping indictments on Clinton and her inner circle, and they’re increasingly frustrated by his failure to do so. “Resign if you won’t do the job,” said lawyer Larry Klayman, whose FreedomWatch is suing to remove Robert Mueller as the DOJ special counsel investigating Trump’s campaign and Russia. “Sessions lasted this long because he’s very personable, and you want to believe the guy. But he just doesn’t have the guts for this.” An administration official said the Justice Department doesn’t publicize or leak its investigations, and those criticizing Sessions have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. Legal experts say the attorney general is in a tough spot. Special counsel investigations are rare — Mueller’s is only the second in history. They require a specific set of circumstances to launch. Any new investigation is sure to be seen as a partisan response to growing pressure on Sessions from the White House and conservative media.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rehabilitation is Central to a Prison’s Mission—Except When It Isn’t

Private programs to tutor inmates have to contend with an environment that views volunteers with suspicion. The need to maintain security seems to outweigh all other considerations—including reform, writes a long-term resident of a Washington State penitentiary.

A small army of college students is helping prisoners pass high school equivalency exams and, where the opportunity exists, to earn college degrees.

These volunteers’ ranks are regularly replenished by recruitment from 30 different universities. They march under the banner of the Petey Greene Program.

For the last decade, Petey Greene has trained (typically) undergraduate and graduate students in pedagogical approaches and, thereafter, financed the volunteers’ trips to do service in correctional facilities across the Northeast.

In Pennsylvania, Petey Greene tutors work with young students who are earning their GEDs in juvenile detention facilities.

In Maryland’s sole women’s facility, volunteers work with prisoners in a study hall environment preparing them to pursue higher learning through the Goucher Prisoner Education Partnership.

In Rhode Island, tutors have individual study sessions with prisoners who are completing college courses through the Boston University Education Program.

There are 31 other correctional facilities where members of Petey Greene can be seen. It is an amazing accomplishment—especially since any organization working within a prison environment must contend with a security apparatus that views volunteers with suspicion.

In fact, these sentiments are ubiquitous throughout the correctional system.

For instance, following a large-scale drug and weapons raid in Pennsylvania’s Graterford Correctional Institution in 1996, prison administrators claimed it was necessary to reduce “the number of volunteers entering the prison for such programs as literacy tutoring, Bible study, and gardening.” [The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Struggle to Survive: View From Behind Bars,” August 12, 1996].

More recently, after drugs were discovered in a visiting room bathroom at Washington State’s Stafford Creek Correctional Center, volunteers of the Black Prisoners Caucus were suspended from entering the facility—notwithstanding the fact that countless visitors and staff had equal access to the location where the contraband was secreted.

Unfair as it may seem, prisoners have no right to interact with members of the community. More to the point, volunteers have no right to do service within correctional facilities.

This makes me wonder how Petey Greene has managed to go about its work so freely.

My personal experience with prison officials’ abhorrence for ceding control to anyone outside of the bureaucracy and the correctional system’s hyper-focus on maintaining institutional security convinces me that Petey Greene’s success took the patience of Job and the cunning of Machiavelli.

Understand this: Prison officials are given “wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.”

On its face, such declarations are reasonable. But in practice, this “wide-ranging deference” creates a conflict between fostering reform and maintaining institutional security. Indeed, it ultimately undermines public safety by hamstringing outside efforts to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce recidivism.

The Facts on the Ground

The Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) enables prisoners and others to submit pilot proposals to help reduce re-offending and increase success upon re-entry.

Unfortunately, though, the administrative compulsion to wield authority makes it next to impossible for non-WDOC programs to be established—let alone for them to maintain any real semblance of autonomy.

Take the Redemption Project which was created by WDOC prisoner (and my former cellmate) Anthony Powers. His vision was to develop a program that—according to the mission statement—would “repay society for the negative acts committed against it by helping to prevent others from repeating similar acts.”

Yet as the program transformed from a small group of prisoners who spoke to at-risk youth brought to Stafford Creek into a cognitive behavior therapy program for prisoners throughout the facility, Powers had to relinquish ever more independence to administrators to keep his program growing.

In the end, the Redemption Project became a fixture within WDOC. However, by then, it had transformed into nothing more than a means for prisoners to earn “good time” credit for their participation. As for Powers, prison administrators relegated him to the status of a volunteer for the very program that was his brain child.

The lesson: Compromising to get buy-in from correctional officials can be a slippery slope to ruining a program’s integrity.

The fact that a rehabilitative program is created and controlled by someone who is free does not deter official attempts at encroachment or usurpation. This truth was imparted to me as a member of the Prisoner Advisory Committee for the non-profit University Beyond Bars (UBB).

Since its inception, the UBB has devoted itself to providing opportunities for prisoners at Washington State Reformatory to pursue higher learning. Prison officials nevertheless sought to impose WDOC’s policy of prioritizing prisoners based upon their release dates, deportation and citizenship status, and their likelihood of reoffending.

To the UBB’s credit, the group’s director balked at erecting such a barrier to entry. To her dismay, prison officials then balked—for six years—before finally allowing her to bring donated computers into the facility for utilization by UBB students.

The lesson: When independent programs refuse to acquiesce to correctional prerogatives, there will be consequences.

Keeping the Faith

With these lessons in mind, let me return to the improbable success of Petey Greene. Based on its Program Viewbook the organization appears to have somehow avoided such trials and tribulations. Is it possible that the eight states and 34 prisons where the Petey Greene Program operates are outliers within my construct of the correctional system?

I highly doubt it.

The reality is that Petey Greene has long been plagued by its inability to collect the data that is necessary for receiving grants—difficulties that are due, in large part, to a lack of cooperation by correctional officials.

Were rehabilitation the paramount goal of corrections, prison officials would be falling all over themselves to ensure that Petey Greene was successful in enlarging the amount and type of data it collects about its programming.

Yet at the end of the day, the Supreme Court notes that “central to all other correctional goals is the institutional consideration of internal security within corrections facilities themselves.”

Sadly, assisting a non-profit collect the data required to establish that it is an evidence-based program is not a correctional priority—even if that very program furthers the penological interest in protecting the public from future harm.

Therefore, it remains to be seen if the patience of Job and cunning of Machiavelli that Petey Greene has exhibited thus far will enable the organization to meet its larger objective of measuring the program’s impact on recidivism rates.

I wish the organization the best.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

But to those running Petey Greene, I urge you to heed this warning:

Compromising and being conciliatory to prison officials to keep a program growing can undermine its mission and destroy its integrity. Yet, remaining steadfast to one’s principles can likewise lead to frustration and grief.

So, you better tread carefully.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Can the U.S. Cut Mass Incarceration?

Leading criminologists tout progress made on state sentencing reforms, saying it proves there are feasible ways to cut the U.S. inmate population and reduce crime at the same time.

The “changed” national conversation about who we send to jails and prisons–and for how long—offers hope for reductions in the number of Americans behind bars, say leading criminologists.

Experts at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, which ended Saturday, said several jurisdictions had already demonstrated it was possible to reduce inmate populations, which topped 2.2 million nationwide in the last official count, without endangering public safety.

Yet a new survey released before the conference pointed in the opposite direction.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center asked all states where they saw their prison population total going in the next few years. Twenty-one of 29 states that had a projection believed the inmate count would rise.

Despite this finding, several participants in a panel discussion Friday on sentencing reform in the Trump era insisted that there are feasible ways to cut the U.S. imprisonment level, perhaps sharply.

James Austin, a consultant to states on prison issues, pointed to New York City and the states of California and New Jersey as places that have managed to have both fewer inmates and less crime.

Austin contends that the national prisoner total could be cut in half by two straightforward steps: reducing the average time that a person is held in custody from the current 29 months to an average of 21 months, and stopping the common practice of sending those on probation and parole behind bars for violating rules.

Contributing to what Austin sees as an inmate overload is too many arrests by police officers at the front end of the process, he said.

Austin chided criminologists for adding to the public perception that fewer prisoners means more crime in the streets, a supposed linkage he says has been disproved in several major states.

Criminologist Todd Clear of Rutgers University agreed with Austin that sending fewer people to prison for less time is the key to eliminating mass incarceration.

In Clear’s view, the view about incarceration among much of the public and their elected representatives already has improved.

Amid continuing lower crime rates around the nation than were recorded in the 1990s, “the conversation is different — something has changed,” Clear said.

As evidence, he asserted that there has been little public outrage about former prisoners who commit new crimes.

While such incidents are bound to happen, the public understands that some criminals “make terrible mistakes” but violence is not on the rise overall, he added.

Clear observed that most political candidates no longer are running on “tough on crime” platforms.

President Trump regularly does use such rhetoric, but the criminology panelists said they didn’t believe that his administration will have much impact on criminal justice policy at the state and local level.

Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center, which has created maps showing the origins of prisoners, parolees and probationers, originated the term “justice reinvestment,” a program that seeks to spend less tax money on housing prisoners and reinvest it in better local services or convicted people.

Cadora contended at the criminology discussion that reducing prison populations is an issue of “managing local discretion” among police officer, prosecutors and other public officials. A focus on changing state sentencing laws will not solve the problem, he said, because state legislatures are reluctant to tell officials in local areas, where crime problems may differ dramatically, what to do.

The federal government is continuing to spend money on justice reinvestment plans for states and they are helping to reduce inmate totals, said Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who also spoke on the panel.

Wetzel said that his counterparts in many states are backing the program, and it should get credit for modest prison count declines in some of them. He declared himself “optimistic” that the trend would continue.

In Pennsylvania, where the criminology conference was held, Gov. Tom Wolf last year hailed a decline of nearly 850 inmates in 2015, which he said was the largest one-year decline in population over the last 40 years. Yet the total remained just under 50,000, each of whom cost the state $41,000 annually to incarcerate.

Wetzel had presided earlier last week at a “50-State Summit” on criminal justice in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, and the U.S. Justice Department.

A survey of states presented at the conference was not so optimistic as was the criminologists panel.

Six states projected double-digit increases in prisoners over the next decade, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico and West Virginia. Kansas and Kentucky have been hailed as successes of the “justice reinvestment” process.

Although most of the states on the list have smaller populations, Minnesota, Ohio and Virginia also appear.

Panelists last week agreed that it doesn’t have to happen. The most often cited example is Texas, which in 2007 had 155,000 inmates and a projection of adding 17,000 in future years in $523 million worth of new prisons.

Alarmed legislators took the justice reinvestment approach, and the state not only has many fewer inmates, about 141,000, but has been able to close several prisons.

One somewhat overlooked component of public opinion on prison issues is crime victims, argued consultant Austin.

He said the public would support changes in sentencing policy if more people come to understand that crime victimization is a “rare event” and if state governments stopped doing a “terrible job” helping crime victims and “fully compensated” them.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Does Evidence Matter in Justice Policymaking?

For two decades, criminal justice advocates have been promoting the idea of basing anticrime policy on scientific evidence. But is anyone listening? Leading criminologists address the question at a Philadelpia conference.

For two decades, criminal justice advocates have been talking up the idea of basing anticrime policy on scientific evidence.

How much is it actually happening nationwide?

That question was on the table Thursday at the American Society of Criminology’s annual meeting, held this year in Philadelphia. Criminologists long have complained that policymakers tend to ignore their studies and pursue ideas based more on whims than science.

Laurie Robinson, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General now on the faculty of George Mason University, believes there has been much progress but also a lot of resistance to the idea of backing up justice policy with solid research.

In the first of two Robinson stints at DOJ, a report assessing what works in fighting crime and what doesn’t helped her cut federal funding for programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and military-style boot camps for low-level offenders.

Still, dubious ideas like gun buy-backs by police agencies keep recurring even though studies have found them ineffective.

“Science has a hard time combatting emotionally popular programs,” Robinson said during a panel discussing the topic.

Edward Mulvey of the University of Pittsburgh, who heads a Science Advisory Board at DOJ, agreed that evidence on the spread of evidence-based programs is mixed.

Many “unsound policies” remain in the criminal justice world, partly because much of the public doesn’t see the value of waiting for evidence to justify a policy change, Mulvey said.

He takes the “long view” that proved practices eventually will prevail over “media headlines” about ideas that prove ineffective.

The Trump administration has said that it will retain the science board at OJP, which was established by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

At the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), DOJ’s research agency, David Muhlhausen has moved from the Heritage Foundation to become director.

At Thursday’s criminology program, Muhlhausen declared that “science-based crime policy is on the rise, but we need to improve — we’re not where we want to be.”

Mulhausen is enthusiastic about a website established by Robinson, crimesolutions.gov, which assesses the effectiveness of many anticrime programs that have been studied.

Muhlhausen’s primary concern is that there are too many program evaluations that are “quasi experimental” — far from definitive because they weren’t done using the “randomized controlled trials” in which people getting an experimental treatment are compared with similar groups who aren’t subjected to it.

He cited the example of drug courts, which he said had repeatedly been evaluated using the “quasi experimental” method.

The new NIJ director said that in general, he wanted to stop funding government-subsidized programs that don’t work, to avoid a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”

His criticism wasn’t limited to the Justice Department.

Muhlhausen cited a project of the Department of Labor supporting job training for former prisoners that the agency touted while not disclosing that a randomized controlled trial showed it was ineffective.

He also cited the Hawaii-based HOPE program (Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement), which puts some criminal defendants on probation under the threat of quick punishment if they violate rules.

Muhlhausen said an initial evaluation in Hawaii found the program valuable but randomized controlled trials in other states cast doubt on it.

“We have to be careful to define ‘what works,'” Muhlhausen said Thursday.

Muhlhausen admitted that evidence-based anticrime policies would be a “tough sell” to some audiences, such as working police officers.

He is supporting a project to instill academic concepts more widely among the ranks of criminal justice practitioners, a group he dubbed “pracademics.”

One leading justice practitioner who agreed that it can be difficult to instill evidentiary principles in the work of police and other criminal justice workers was Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief and director of National Drug Policy under President Obama.

Kerlikowske noted that many large police departments had improved their techniques in such areas as videotaping confessions and obtaining witness identifications of crime suspects, but that many smaller departments had not caught up with needed changes. He said the academic community bears some of the blame for not offering their expertise to small police agencies.

Criminologists seemed pleased that NIJ’s Muhlhausen had embraced evidence-based policymaking in a presidential administration that has shunned scientific evidence in areas such as climate change.

Still, Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University expressed doubt that Muhlhausen could insist on the “gold standard” of randomized controlled trials for most studies of anticrime projects.

Important areas such as the death penalty aren’t appropriate for such experiments, Blumstein said.

Muhlhausen agreed that every crime study couldn’t be a randomized controlled trial. He repeatedly said that he wants NIJ to “advance the ball” and not to fund repeated studies that don’t aim to break significant new ground.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Study: Crime Drops When Neighborhoods Get a Makeover

A combination of hot-spot policing and a redevelopment project resulted in crime reduction by as much as 49 percent in one at-risk community. The study of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood underlines the link between community participation, improved real estate and public safety.

A Pittsburgh-based nonprofit development organization reduced crime by up to 49 percent through a hybrid strategy of combining hot-spot policing and real estate intervention.

However, it came with a high cost, according to a University of Michigan Study.

The study, published by the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, looked at the neighborhood of East Liberty in Pittsburgh— a thriving community throughout the 19th and mid-20th centuries, and currently home to the third largest central business district (CBD) in Pennsylvania.

The study examined whether improving the quality of housing stock in partnership with local community organizations would affect crime “hotspots” already targeted by police for sustained law enforcement activity.

It focused on the impact of the East Liberty Development, Inc.(ELDI) , a nonprofit development organization established by the city in 1979 to collaborate with neighborhood stakeholders in planning, advocacy, facilitation, and investment to revitalize the community

Significant drops in the rate of crime incidents were documented between 2008, when sustained redevelopment began, and 2012.

“The reduction in crime incidents was appreciably higher when compared relative to neighborhoods in close proximity to East Liberty or the average reduction in crime citywide,” concluded the study, which was conducted by Numeritics, a Pittsburgh-based consulting practice.

According to ELDI, “disastrous urban planning” in the 1960s generated an increased rates of unemployment and crime. In 1999, the organization formulated a 10-year plan for development entitled, “A Vision for East Liberty.”

Through this plan, ELDI acquired problematic properties, hired property managers and hired off-duty police officers to refurbish, manage and monitor these properties.

Study author Tayo Fabusuyi, who was the lead strategist at Numeritics and is also an adjunct faculty member at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, conducted the four-year study.

According to data obtained from the Pittsburgh police, crime incidents had declined by 26 percent in East Liberty compared to 20 percent in the surrounding neighborhoods and 16 percent citywide between 2008 and 2012.

Crime within the area where the implementation was most focused decreased by 49 percent.

Beyond the 49 percent reduction in residential crime in East Liberty between 2008 and 2012, Numeritics also documented a sustained decrease in crime incidents in the neighborhood from 2008 to 2015, which represents the most recent data analyzed.

But as crime rates decreased, demand for properties in the neighborhood increased, translating into housing prices appreciating by more than 120 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Identification of problematic properties—ones which were typically vacant, abandoned or owned by slumlords—was based on input from residents and ELDI staff members who live in the neighborhood. ELDI then acquired more than 200 of these units over the four year period, representing approximately three percent of the rental apartment units in the neighborhood.

Many high-rise housing projects were replaced with low-rise, townhouse-style mixed-income housing. Other initiatives focused on bringing businesses, shops, and restaurants back to the area.

Property managers were then hired to enforce tenant lease obligations prohibiting drug dealing, illegal activity, and disorderly behavior that previous property management had condoned.

Additionally, ELDI hired off-duty police officers to monitor properties, relocated squatters in abandoned homes, and boarded up and maintained vacant houses they did not own in order to generate a sense of order.

All of these initiatives led to increased guardianship in both ELDI-owned and non-ELDI-owned properties, which has been documented in existing literature as being strongly correlated with reduced criminal activity, according to Fabusuyi.

However, the price of redevelopment was high. In 2008, the cost of sheathing or roofing a property—about $20,000—exceeded the average market value of an apartment unit in East Liberty.

Over a three-year period (2008-2011), ELDI also spent approximately $45,000 hiring off-duty police officers at a rate of $110/man-hour.

Furthermore, ELDI’s rigorous screening procedure for potential tenants and its zero tolerance for disorderly conduct translated into a higher vacancy rates.

ELDI has been able to strengthen its anchor within East Liberty through more than two decades of community development.

However, the challenge for ELDI is raising the consciousness of East Liberty to a point where the neighborhood can police itself, without the need for frequent outside intervention, the study said.

The study argued that the results could be instructive for work in similar at-risk neighborhoods elsewhere.

“We conclude that a community-oriented approach to local redevelopment that reduces crime in a sustainable way should emphasize, in addition to community or third-party policing, strategies to improve and leverage the neighborhood’s social cohesion and informal social control,” the study said.

The full report can be read here.

This summary was produced by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Key to the NRA’s Influence? Votes, Not Money

The NRA has spent $4.1 million on lobbying this year, a fraction of mega-spenders like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So what accounts for its power in Washington? Analysts say it chooses its political battles wisely, swinging primary elections in favor of pro-gun candidates.

The Guardian examines the National Rifle Association’s outsized influence and concludes that its power is not derived only from money. The vast majority of Americans support gun control, and yet Congress has failed to toughen laws even in the wake of a series of mass shootings. With the NRA pouring money into political races at record levels, it is easy to argue that the gun lobby has bought Washington. But that fails to paint a full picture. So far this year, the NRA has spent $4.1 million on lobbying – more than the $3.1 million it spent in all of 2016. By comparison, the dairy industry has spent $4.4 million in the same period. The National Association of Realtors has paid out $32.2 million for lobbying and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest spender of all, has spent $104 million.

Guns and ammo are big businesses, with revenues of $13.3 billion in 2017. But that’s paltry in comparison with, say, the auto industry, which has spent $51.8 million on lobbying this year, with projected revenues of $105 billion and profits of $3 billion.“The NRA is not successful because of its money,” says UCLA professor and Adam Winkler. “To be sure, it is hard to be a force in American politics without money. The NRA has money that it uses to help its favored candidates get elected. But the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters.”

from https://thecrimereport.org