Mass Incarceration Must Be Dismantled Locally: Forman

Criminal justice reform is alive and well in states and localities despite President Trump’s anti-crime rhetoric, says Yale law Prof. James Forman, Jr.

The movement to reduce the U.S. prison population and make the criminal justice system more humane is not in retreat despite President Trump’s strong anti-crime rhetoric, James Forman Jr. of the Yale Law School faculty writes in the New York Times. Forman notes that the same election that Trump won also saw criminal justice reform victories in state ballot initiatives, including in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and California. Prosecutors around the U.S. campaigned on promises to charge fewer juveniles as adults, stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession and seek the death penalty less often. That may have more impact on incarceration than will federal policies, Forman says. “Mass incarceration will have to be dismantled the same way it was constructed: piecemeal, incrementally and, above all, locally,” writes Forman, who is publishing a book this spring titled, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

Forman cites justice reform groups that are led by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people or their family members. When formerly incarcerated people appear before a legislature, speak at a news conference or write about life in prison, “walls of shame and stigma begin to totter, and others find it easier to speak up. In a nation in which nearly a third of people have been arrested by age 23, these voices could have a profound collective impact, Forman says. He writes that the criminal justice reform movement has begun to embrace victims and survivors of crime. Pro-prison activists cite “victims’ rights” on the assumption that if the criminal justice system took victims’ experiences and opinions into account, it would treat offenders more harshly. Reform advocates like Lenore Anderson of the Alliance for Safety and Justice in Oakland are challenging the assumption that crime victims necessarily want punitive outcomes, Forman says.



Correcting America’s Bail Crisis Isn’t Out of Reach

On any given day, there are about 450,000 people in jail who haven’t been convicted of anything–at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $38 million a day. These men and women sit in jail because they don’t have the money to get out. It’s time to change the system.

On any given day in the United States there are about 450,000 people in jail who have not been convicted of anything. According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, they cost taxpayers about $38 million a day.

Those 450,000 people have been charged with a crime, and all—except for a small percentage facing life in prison—have a right to be free. These men and women sit in jail because they do not have the money to get out, pending trial.

Bail is an age-old tool that allows judges to release defendants pending trial by requiring them to post a certain amount of money as a way of ensuring they’ll return to court. To make bail, defendants post collateral, pay the amount in cash or get a bail piece—insurance policy—from a bail bond company, which typically charges a 10 percent fee.

Let’s do the math.  Mr. Smith gets arrested for assault.  The court sets his bail at $1,500.  The bail bond company needs $150 to post Smith’s bail.  Smith doesn’t have it, so he sits in jail for 75 days awaiting trial.  Smith pleads guilty and is sentenced to time served and released.

Because Mr. Smith didn’t have $150, taxpayers shelled out $85 a day for a whopping $6,375.

Bail serves two purposes: To guarantee that defendants appear for court; and to protect the public from those who are a potential threat.  Proponents of cash bail say the money to post bail often comes from family members, and serves as a deterrent to fleeing.

Bail is not punitive. Although violent crime rates are at historic lows, the Trump Justice Department has made violent crime a top priority.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions would do well to be smart, as well as tough, on crime.  A first step might be setting aside funds for states who commit to reexamining pretrial detention.

A recent study in Maryland found that people arrested in the state from 2011 to 2015 paid combined bail premiums of more than $256 million. Those who use the services of a bail bond company do not get back any of the money paid.  More than 25 percent of that money was paid by people who were acquitted or never faced trial.

Last fall, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh told members of the House of Delegates that judges and court commissioners must take into account the accused’s ability to pay before setting bail. According to the Baltimore Sun, Frosh said that if bail is out of reach for a defendant, the courts would find that unconstitutional.

Two years ago, New Jersey voters changed the state constitution to implement a new bail system that focused on expanding assessments of defendants to determine whether they should be released.  The New Jersey Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act went into effect in January.  The new law will rely on a computerized risk assessment tool to make bail decision and is expected to reduce costs and significantly reduce the state’s jail population.

In New York City, Mayor William de Blasio earmarked $17.8 million to supervise 3,000 defendants in the community who are awaiting trial. The “supervised release” initiative permits judges to release defendants to a supervisory program that allows defendants to remain at home with their families and continue working while awaiting trial.

Those awaiting trial represent 63 percent of the total jail population.  Less than four out of 10 men and women sitting in county and local jails are actually serving a sentence. Those sitting in jail not serving a sentence drain about $14 billion a year from public coffers.

America’s bail system has become a central issue in the fight to reverse mass incarceration. According to NBC News, in courthouses, statehouses and ballot boxes across the country, civil rights lawyers and progressive policymakers are working to curb the practice of demanding money in exchange for freedom before trial.

“The nation needs to reform its bail system. But it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Eliminate cash bail,’ ” Kevin Burke, a Minnesota district judge and past president of the American Judges, Association told Stateline.

According to Burke, judges only get a few minutes to assess a defendant’s case, and often judges set bail without knowing the full circumstances.

“The fear (they have) is ‘I’m going to let somebody go and they’re going to go out and do something terrible, or they won’t come back, so I’ll set bail,.’”  Burke said.

The current bail system denies freedom to thousands of people who are presumed innocent but are financially challenged. Those who sit in jail are at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and their families.

Certainly, it’s unfair to incarcerate someone merely because they cannot afford bail. It is equally unfair to every man and woman in America to spend about $1 trillion, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute on pretrial incarceration, which amounts to about six percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the use of bail has exploded in the past two decades, driving a 59 percent rise in the number of un-convicted jail inmates.

Matthew T. Mangino

Correcting America’s bail crisis is not out of reach.  This isn’t about being tough on crime.  It’s about being fair.  For some, even a nominal bond is out of reach. When an accused has no money, $1,500 might as well be $150,000.

For taxpayers the issue is just as compelling.

If the cost of pretrial detention could be cut in half, taxpayers could save $7 billion a year. In these challenging economic times those dollars are difficult to ignore.

.Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. He welcomes readers’ comments.





Police Deflection: The Screen Door at the Front of the Justice System

Confronted with people clearly in need of treatment and social services, law enforcement officers need a way to respond, because they know they’ll see them again. A new approach gaining traction across the country offers “a public health approach to better public safety.”

Law enforcement officers know the routine well. They encounter someone who has a drug addiction or a mental health problem. Sometimes they stop the person for a low-level offense, such as drug possession, petty theft, or vagrancy.

Sometimes this might mean arrest, but often it means not being able to do anything.

If an arrest is made and the person is prosecuted, then very often, he or she will be arrested again and the cycle continues.

Confronted with people clearly in need of treatment and social services, law enforcement officers need a way to respond, because they know they’ll see them again. Confronted with violations of the law, officers cannot simply ignore what’s happening.

But continually arresting individuals for low-level offenses only exacerbates problems. As officers have said for decades, “we cannot arrest our way out of social problems.”

What if officers had a third option?

Increasingly, in jurisdictions across the country, they do.

They do in Tallahassee, Florida. In Gloucester, Massachusetts. In Lucas County, Ohio; Montgomery County, Maryland; and Seattle, Washington. These are some of the more than 250—and counting—jurisdictions across the United States that are part of rapidly emerging criminal justice efforts that collectively are called “deflection.”

Deflection is a term coined in 2014 to represent a broad range of alternatives that take place as part of law enforcement’s decision-making before an arrest is made. Existing deflection initiatives may include pre-arrest or pre-booking diversion, law enforcement diversion, and police-assisted diversion.

Deflection involves a different approach than prosecutorial or court-based diversion, where a person already faces criminal charges and is subsequently moved out of the system. It is defined as moving a person away from the justice system and toward community behavioral health and social services without ever being arrested and processed into the criminal justice system.

Deflection is a public health approach to better public safety.

Earlier this month, the Center for Health and Justice at the Chicago-based nonprofit called Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) and the Civil Citation Network co-convened the first-ever National Deflection Summit in Alexandria, VA.

The summit brought together 45 leaders representing law enforcement, behavioral health, research, and public policy partners. Among the participants were “brand name” deflection programs, including Adult Civil Citation, the Angel and Arlington models (part of the PAARI network, the largest number of deflection sites in the country), LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), and STEER (Stop, Triage, Engage, Educate, and Rehabilitate).

The summit involved an exchange of experience, insights and thoughts about deflection, including how deflection can be used in confronting the opioid crisis. At the conclusion of the summit, it was decided to move forward together—law enforcement, treatment, researchers and partners—to provide national vision, leadership, voice and action regarding deflection.

Accountability Without Arrest

Drug use and mental health issues are the major drivers of criminal justice involvement.

Deflection identifies and treats these underlying issues as a health issue first, and public safety event only when they present a real risk to others’ well-being. Through this approach, encounters with law enforcement involve screening to determine who may be deflected to services before an arrest is made and without locking people up.

This real-time sorting is done by officers and behavioral health experts based on the person’s own desire to receive help, behavioral triage, or if criminal charges could be brought, it might involve their risk to re-offend and identified treatment needs. If deflected, there are no criminal charges filed and many deflection initiatives do not require criminal charges even be present in the first place.

Early deflection programs show promising results. For those communities that have practiced pre-arrest diversion to treatment for several years, the rearrest rates for those receiving behavioral intervention services have significantly decreased.

Beyond these early initiatives, there is now a sizable expansion of programs that connect law enforcement to community-based treatment, and that paradigm shift can transform the front door of the justice system. When deflection is scaled using universal screening, referral, and intervention/treatment, the numbers of individuals entering the justice system should drop —assuming the availability of sufficient behavioral health services in the community.

Through expanded use of deflection, law enforcement could become the largest referral source to behavioral health and social services in U.S. criminal justice history.

Deflection makes every law enforcement officer a potential pathway to behavioral intervention services, drug treatment, mental health treatment, and social services when called for. Based on the street-level experiences of police officers who see the same drug users and people with mental illness daily on their beats, and know an arrest will do absolutely nothing to solve the situation, deflection adds to the justice system something new.

A screen door.

By reshaping the American criminal justice system so that it holds only those deemed a danger to society, we will achieve a system that is more nimble, agile, and able to focus on addressing offenses that present a real risk to public safety.

This new type of American justice will be able to systematically focus its full attention, resources and efforts on a smaller number of the most dangerous criminals, most urgent public safety challenges, and most intransigent crime issues, while also providing more support for victims of crime.

Perhaps one of the most timely, though not initially obvious, outcomes is improved police/community relations.

Surveys of officers often show that one of the reasons they joined the profession was to help people. Deflection gives law enforcement departments the opportunity to provide and train officers to use an effective alternative to arrest that has a positive outcome.

And the community will see law enforcement repeatedly doing much more than arresting, by truly understanding what residents and their loved ones may need: A place to stay, treatment, or a real shot at a job.

Jac Charlier,  a national expert on police deflection and criminal justice systems-change initiatives, is National Director for Justice Initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC. He welcomes comments from readers.



Getting Away With Murder: The National Crisis of Cold-Case Homicides

The murder rate in 2016 was up nationally. But that’s not the worst of it. The unsolved rate of homicides is also on the rise, and that means every year, there are more people who get away with murder than the year before.

The murder rate in 2016 was up nationally. But that’s not the worst of it. The unsolved rate of homicides is also on the rise.

That means every year, there are more people who get away with murder than the year before.

Between 1980 and 2014, according to data I compiled from the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the Bureau’s Supplemental Homicide Reports, we accumulated well over 230,355 unresolved homicides.  Nationwide, police agencies on average clear—where an arrest is made—about 62% of the cases, which means that over one third of those cases remain unsolved.  Sadly, for 2016, there are indications this clearance number will drop below that percentage to its lowest in our nation’s history.

This isn’t justice. It is also not good for public safety.

Those who kill will continue to commit violent crimes, perhaps even more homicides, until they are arrested and convicted.  At the same time, relatives of the victims will continue to suffer as long as those who took their loves ones from them remain unidentified and un-caught—a population that is likely to grow.

That’s why authorities must make resolving these cold cases as much of a priority as solving the “hot” ones. If we are going to successfully address this problem, we cannot do just one without the other.

The national figures for unresolved homicides are alarming, but they look even more disturbing at the local level.  To take some random examples, listed by order of magnitude:

  • Chicago—9,757
  • Detroit—7,500
  • Washington DC—3,884
  • Philadelphia—3,392
  • Phoenix—2,136
  • St Louis—1,629
  • Memphis, TN—1,480
  • Birmingham, AL—1,364
  • Nashville—1,213

And these just reflect the figures for 1980-2014. The nationwide numbers continued to grow in 2015 and 2016.

Focusing on the problem of open homicide cases means that law enforcement leaders must first identify the unresolved homicides still on their books. That seems obvious, but in fact, many police chiefs have no idea how many cases exist in their jurisdiction.

Yes, you read that correctly. How can this be the case?

First, they are concentrating their efforts more on the present than the past. Smaller agencies might justifiably claim they are constrained by budget or staffing issues, but for the larger ones cold cases just do not have the same priority as more recent homicides.

In fact, avoiding the cold cases only makes their problems worse.

Second, they also must come to understand that by resolving cold cases they will in turn take bad actors off the streets who are committing other crimes. This is accomplished by creating a dedicated cold case team trained on how to properly conduct a cold case investigation.

A dedicated cold case team is defined as a team that does nothing else but investigate unresolved homicides.  The team members should not be introduced to—or brought in— to investigate the hot cases that occur on a regular basis.

Finally, the over-reliance on technology can actually impede quick resolution of these cases.  Research suggests that good, old-fashioned detective work can solve more cases than resorting to poring over physical evidence like DNA.

Cold case detectives tell me that if there isn’t a DNA “hit” or other evidence that comes back from their crime laboratory which is positive for the identification of a perpetrator, then the case is not pursued further.

Have our officials bought into the CSI effect? This type of approach is wrong and it’s making the matter worse.  Technology is no silver bullet. If it were, we would not be suffering the huge backlog of unresolved murders that we face today.

For the sake of justice, and the surviving family members, we should demand that our police agencies properly address this problem with dedicated cold case teams that have received specialized training into the nuances of investigating decades old homicides.

If they don’t, the unresolved homicides and an untold number of surviving victims will continue to increase by the thousands each year.  It’s a national crisis that can no longer be ignored.

James M. Adcock, PhD, a retired US Army CID agent, and a former Chief Deputy Coroner, has spent the past 19 years specializing in cold case homicides by training law enforcement, researching, and reviewing cold cases for agencies around the U.S.  He has written two books one on Cold Case Investigations and the other on Death Investigation, both second editions.  Last month, he presented the results of a 15-month study on the status of unresolved homicides to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He welcomes comments from readers.






Women Shortchanged by Justice Reforms: Report

Criminal justice reform has not helped women to the same extent that it has benefited men, says a study from the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College. Drawing from women’s experience at Rikers Island, the report argues that reform should be trauma-informed and gender-responsive to account for women’s unique needs.

Criminal justice reform has not helped women to the same extent that it has benefited men, a new report has found.

The report, commissioned by The New York Women’s Foundation and released by the Prisoner Reentry Institute  (PRI) of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argues that reforms must be gender-responsive, faithful to the principles of parsimony and proportionality, and engage social services to better serve individuals with criminal justice involvement.

“The administration of justice has paid insufficient attention to gender,” writes the report’s author, PRI Policy Director Alison Wilkey. “Women have not been served well under a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The number of women in the American justice system has grown exponentially, by more than 700%,  from 1980 to 2014, the report notes. Although they are a lower-risk population in the system, policymakers must pay special attention to the “pathways” that have brought them there, including violence, trauma and poverty.

Women of color in particular are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, said the report, entitled “Women In Justice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail.”

The report examined data on women in the criminal justice system obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services; interviews with experts, criminal justice policy organizations and service providers; and the current literature on women involved with the criminal justice system.

The author also looked closely at women’s experience in Rikers Island, the only New York City facility where women are held.

The New York City data shows that “women are charged with less serious crimes, are less likely to be charged with violent crimes, and are less likely to return to jail within one year.”

Nevertheless, reforms to the system must be “gender-responsive” through use of social service system and counseling alternatives that address women’s needs, the report said.

While these needs are common among women in the justice system, provision of basic social services shouldn’t be “entangled in the adversarial court process,” it cautions.

Moreover, the author said , participation in such programs should not be mandatory unless it is a “proportionate and parsimonious” response.

The report is divided in four parts: How They Get There: The Journeys That Lead Women to the NYC Justice System; The Road to Rikers: Mapping Women’s Trajectories through the NYC Justice System; The Needs of Women in the NYC Justice System; and Addressing the Needs of NYC’s Justice-Involved Women.

The full report is available here.

This  summary was prepared by TCR intern Davi Hernandez.




Americans Favor ‘Rehabilitation’ Over Jail Time, Survey Finds

A significant majority of Americans believe putting people behind bars for non-violent offenses is a wrong—and almost three-quarters favor “rehabilitation” over jail when such offenses are committed by those who suffer from mental illness, according to a Zogby Analytics/RTI International poll released today.

A significant majority of Americans believe putting people behind bars for non-violent offenses is a wrong—and almost three-quarters favor  “rehabilitation” over jail when such offenses are committed by those who suffer from mental illness, according to a Zogby Analytics/RTI International poll released today.

The  results, from an online survey completed by 3,007 persons across the country between December 9-13, are a sharp counterpoint to the “law-and-order” rhetoric  that many observers considered one of the key appeals of President Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House  last fall.

According to the poll, commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 62 percent of those surveyed agreed that “rehabilitating or treating the person” was a more appropriate response to non-violent offenders than incarceration.  Some 74 percent opposed imprisonment for offenders who were mentally ill.

The survey specifically asked respondents only about their attitudes towards crimes that did not involve violence, a sexual offense, or significant property loss. So the results may not necessarily reflect similar attitudes towards violent offenders—a category that the Trump administration claims represents a rising danger to the country.

All the same, the survey  revealed a telling ambiguity among Americans towards punishment after several decades of tough-on-crime policies that have shunted over 2.3 million Americans into prison today—many of them people of color.

Almost 20 times that number of jail admissions are recorded annualy—nearly 12 million—many of which represent detentions of individuals who have not been convicted and are awaiting trial.

Just 18 percent of survey respondents considered punishment to be the central purpose of jail, while nearly twice that number  (33 percent) felt  jail time should incorporate the kind of treatment or rehabilitation that would prevent future crimes.

Supporters of bail reform are likely to be encouraged  by another survey result which showed two-thirds of the respondents believe that release of those awaiting trail should be determined by the danger they might pose to public safety, rather than by their ability to pay money bail.

Most tellingly,  when told that  three out of every four persons in jail today were detained for non-violent offenses like traffic, property and drug violations, only 13 percent of Americans said they   were aware of that fact.



At ‘Critical Moment’ Under Trump, Report Gives Hard Facts on Incarceration

The Prison Policy Initiative’s annual report on U.S. prison populations offers a reality check on the administration’s fear-loaded rhetoric on rising violent crime. The number of incarcerated persons in the U.S. remains unchanged at 2.3 million–a figure the authors say should make the feds think about how to encourage states to reduce that number instead of filling more prison cells.

With a gimlet eye trained on the Trump administration’s emerging criminal justice strategies, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) today released its annual headcount and analysis of the 2.3 million people held in America’s “byzantine” incarceration complex.

Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy say their report, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017,” comes as the country’s criminal justice systems stands at “a critical moment.”

“The new administration has taken aim at the past decade’s advances toward criminal justice reform, and has a troubling reliance on ‘alternative facts’ to support its agenda,” they write.

“While the White House is moving away from criminal justice reform, The Whole Pie offers the reassuring reminder that the bulk of incarceration flows directly from the policy choices made by state and local, ­ not federal, ­ governments.”

Bernadette Rabuy. Photo courtesy PPI

Since 2014, the nonpartisan, Massachusetts-based nonprofit has published annual graphic portraits of government data showing how many are locked up, where, and why. The goal is “to provide policymakers and the public a clear and accurate big picture view of punishment in the U.S.,” according to the authors.

The new count says state prisons hold 1.33 million people, 58 percent of the national incarceration total. Local jails are second at 630,000, federal prisons 197,000, territorial prisons 14,000, and juvenile facilities 34,000.

The 2.3 million total incarcerated population is unchanged from last year.

Peter Wagner. Photo Courtesy PPI

“The biggest changes are in the smallest slices,” Wagner told The Crime Report.

For example, the federal prison population is declining, while immigration detention is surging. But those two figures combine for just one-tenth of the overall incarceration population, which is unchanged over last year.

Other key findings: [See also table below]

  • Some 57,000 people are locked up for criminal or civil immigration offenses, including 16,000 in federal prisons and 41,000 in other forms of detention. Those numbers are up about 10 percent from PPI’s 2016 count.
  • Although local jails attract meager attention, they are the invisible giant of the incarceration industry, with 11 million individual jailings per year, many of them brief.
  • Virtually all growth in jail incarceration over the past 15 years has come in pre-trial detention. At any given time, just three out of 10 people held in local jails are serving time for a conviction.
  • Despite the country’s increasing focus on narcotics use as a health rather than crime problem, American law enforcers continue to arrest more than 1 million people a year for drug possession.
  • Data suggests that mass incarceration reforms hinge largely on rethinking violent-crime sentences. Just 46,000 of the 1.33 million people in state prisons are serving time for drug possession, compared with 704,000 for violent crime.
  • Some 7,200 juveniles are locked up for non-criminal offenses, including 6,600 for “technical violations” of probation and 600 for “status” offenses, “such as running away, truancy, and incorrigibility.”

‘Whole Pie” table showing the breakdown of America’s incarcerated population. Courtesy PPI

While state and local laws drive the engine of criminal justice in America, analysts say federal influence is far from benign. And they worry that anecdote-driven directives from President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggesting shrill responses to what Trump calls “American carnage” could snuff out the nascent justice reform movement.

Citing Trump’s “law-and-order bombast,” Nkechi Taifa, criminal justice advocacy director for the Open Society Policy Center, says, “The handwriting is on the wall that we will likely see a return to the flawed policies of the past which resulted in the current era of mass incarceration.”

Nkechi Taifa. Photo courtesy Open Society Foundations.

“Contrary to some views,” Taifa told The Crime Report, “criminal justice policy reform at the federal level remains pertinent, despite an administration and Congress seemingly hostile to reform.

“It is incumbent that the progressive voice in federal criminal justice is principled, valued and strong, that we protect the gains previously made, and engage in defensive strategies that make it more difficult for harmful policies to pass.”

Last week, Sessions ordered the country’s 94 U.S. attorney’s offices to partner with local and state prosecutors “to investigate, prosecute and deter the most violent offenders.”

His directive, dated March 8, declared: “To accomplish this goal, in all cases, federal prosecutors should coordinate with state and local counterparts to identify the venue (federal or state) that best ensures an immediate and appropriate penalty for these violent offenders.”

Some see that as federal encroachment.

“An expanded federal criminal justice agenda comprised of federal-state-local task forces targeting violent offenses and coupled with tougher federal sentences would be a substantial change in practice and a step in the wrong direction,” says Ryan King, senior fellow at the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center.

He says a renewed federal push for draconian sentences could quickly reverse prison population declines.

Ryan King. Photo Courtesy Urban Institute

“Last time I checked,” King told The Crime Report, “the states did not seem to have trouble prosecuting and incarcerating people for violent crime for very long prison terms. I’m just not seeing the need to expand the role of the federal system to pursue violent crime more aggressively.”

According to the new Prison Policy Initiative tally, 50 percent of the 197,000 federal prison inmates were convicted on narcotics offenses. Violent-crime convictions account for just 7 percent of the federal total.

By contrast, 16 percent of those in state prisons and 26 percent of convicts in local jails are confined on drug offenses. Overall, one of every five incarcerated persons in the country are locked up for drugs.

“Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day, giving this nation the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world,” Wagner and Rabuy write.

“Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice in turn to ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each category behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.”

Taifa says that while she hopes for passage of the bipartisan sentencing-reform legislation that is stalled in Congress, she fears Trump will steer Republicans toward more 1980s-style mandatory sentences, aggressive policing, and increased use of capital punishment. And King says a best-case scenario might be to simply maintain the sentencing reform status quo under Trump.

“While there does still appear to be support for federal criminal justice reform by many members of Congress, it is hard to imagine anything significant being accomplished in terms of sentencing reform,” he says.

But the federal influence on criminal justice goes much deeper.

King notes the leadership role Washington has assumed in promoting rational reforms–after decades in which policies and laws seemed driven by crime aberrations.

“The DOJ under the Obama administration invested heavily in technical assistance and research that supported smart, data-driven, and evidence-based policies at the state and local level,” he says.

These innovations have prompted “a culture change where success is increasingly not measured by rates of conviction and incarceration alone,” King adds.

He says it is a telling sign that while Trump and Sessions hector from their gloomy perspective of violence run amok, “The states are still lining up for this support.”

King says, “There remains an appetite for smarter criminal justice policies that protect public safety while also preserving the dignity of the individuals in the system, their families, and their communities.”

David J. Krajicek (@djkrajicek) is a contributing editor of TCR. He welcomes comments from readers.


Delaware, Vermont Join State Criminal Justice Reform Project

They will join Illinois, Arizona, and Oregon in a project funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to help states plan and implement data-driven, evidence-based reform.

Delaware and Vermont have joined the National Criminal Justice Reform Project being coordinated by the National Criminal Justice Association and the National Governors Association. They will join Illinois, Arizona, and Oregon, where work is underway. Funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the project is helping states plan and implement data-driven, evidence-based reform focused on pretrial reform, reentry and offender recidivism, mental health and substance abuse, reducing incarceration, and information sharing and integration of evidence-based practices across the justice system.  Delaware and Vermont will both address mental health and substance use disorders for justice involved individuals and implement evidence-based practices. The Delaware initiative will focus on the inmate reentry process and reducing recidivism.  Vermont will work on reforming pretrial release and the bail system.

Teams of policymakers and key stakeholders led by each state’s criminal justice policy advisor and the state criminal justice administering agency will develop a strategic planning process for advancing and sustaining reforms within the state’s executive branch. This process will enable executive branch agencies to address priorities, enhance decision-making and achieve system-wide improvements in areas where governors can drive change. The project’s goals are to move all states toward wider adoption of evidence-based practices in criminal justice policymaking and to improve public safety by making criminal justice systems smarter, fairer and more cost-effective.


Plan Would Cut LA’s World-Leading Incarceration Rate

If adopted by Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state legislature, a draft proposal could save taxpayers $305 million over the next 10 years and reduce the state’s prison population by 13 percent, about 4,800 inmates.

A new set of suggestions to change Louisiana’s prison and sentencing laws could save taxpayers $305 million over the next 10 years and reduce the state’s prison population by 13 percent, about 4,800 inmates, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The ideas are included in a draft report compiled by the staff of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ advisory task force on reducing the state’s incarceration rate, the highest in the world. The task force plans to vote March 16 on the recommendations. Its report may form the basis of an Edwards legislative package for the legislature’s session staring April 10.

If all of the proposals were implemented, Louisiana’s prison population, now 35,682, would drop to 31,724 by 2027.  The number of people under community supervision, such as parole and probation, would drop by 16 percent, or 11,421.  The changes would save Louisiana $9 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.  Driving Edwards’ effort, in part, is a realization that Louisiana has a higher incarceration rate than other Southern states with similar crime rates. Louisiana locks up non-violent offenders at three times the rate of Florida and twice that of South Carolina. State Sen. Danny Martiny said Louisiana might be the incarceration capital of the world because the legislature tends to react impulsively to specific cases and crimes and create laws as a result. If a particularly horrible crime happens, lawmaker look to adjust the law to address the public’s concern about a single individual or family, without considering the bigger picture.  “It’s easy to put somebody in jail as long as you don’t worry who is going to pay for it,” Martiny said.


OK House Votes To Overturn Drug Reform

In November, Oklahomans voted to downgrade virtually all drug possession cases into misdemeanors. The state House voted yesterday to reinstate felony-level charges for drug possession near schools. Supporters of the change said voters weren’t told the state proposition eliminated what they described as drug-free school zones.

A bill reinstating felony-level laws for drug possession near schools earned enough votes in the Oklahoma House to pass, despite vigorous opposition from criminal justice reformers, The Oklahoman reports. The bill was heavily amended from its original version to earn enough support to pass the House, where it got just enough votes yesterday to move on to the Senate. The original bill would have allowed prosecutors to charge people with a felony if found with drugs near schools, parks, churches and other public gathering places. The amendments limited the bill’s scope to only school zones.

In November, Oklahomans voted to downgrade virtually all drug possession cases into misdemeanors. The criminal justice reformers who voted against the bill said the people spoke clearly about what they wanted. Supporters of the bill said voters weren’t told the state question eliminated what they described as drug-free school zones. “It’s not overturning the will of the people, because the people did not get a chance to vote on it,” said state Rep. Bobby Cleveland. State Question 780, which Oklahoma voters overwhelming adopted in November, made simple possession of any drug a misdemeanor no matter how many times the person has been convicted of the same crime. The change also repealed enhancements, which prosecutors could use to increase punishments to the felony level. That means anyone caught with drugs on or near a school would face only a misdemeanor charge.