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.
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 Reportdescribed 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.
More than 100 civil rights, “digital justice” and community groups issued a statement expressing concerns about the expanding use of risk assessment instruments as a substitute for basing bail releases on money. The groups said risk assessment tools may not only exacerbate racial bias but “allow further incarceration.”
More than 100 civil rights, “digital justice” and community groups have joined in a statement expressing concerns about the expanding use of risk assessment instruments as a substitute for basing bail releases on money.
The organizations said Monday that risk assessment, which they termed “algorithmic-based decision-making,” may “worsen racial disparities and allow further incarceration.”
Many critics of the money bail system argue that risk assessment is a superior method of advising judges on whether to release a suspect pending disposition of a case. They say that the decision should be based more on science than on how much money the defendant can pay to gain release.
Risk assessment tools use data to forecast a person’s likelihood of appearance at future court dates and the risk of re-arrest.
Instead of risk assessment, the critical groups urge criminal justice leaders to “reform their systems to significantly reduce arrests, end money bail, severely restrict pretrial detention, implement robust due process protections, preserve the presumption of innocence, and eliminate racial inequity.”
The groups maintain that courts can ensure that people are not jailed unneccessarily without using risk assessment tools.
“America’s pretrial justice system is broken,” said Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference Education Fund. “If our goals are to shrink the justice system and end racial disparities, we can’t simply end money bail and replace it with risk assessments.”
Gupta headed the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division during the Obama administration.
The groups’ critical statement echoes concerns expressed in 2014 by then-Attorney General Eric Holder about the use of risk assessments by judges to help make sentencing decisions.
“By basing sentencing decisions on static factors and immutable characteristics – like the defendant’s education level, socioeconomic background, or neighborhood – they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society,” Holder said in a speech to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Among the leading advocates of risk assessment is the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which said this spring that it planned to expand access to its Public Safety Assessment (PSA) “dramatically” and broaden the level of research on its use and effectiveness.
Since a version of risk assessment developed by the foundation was launched in 2013, more than 600 jurisdictions have expressed interest in using it.
“This intense level of interest reflects the nationwide momentum favoring evidence-based pretrial decisions,” the foundation says, saying that the system is aimed at addressing “the inequity in the system that causes the poor to be jailed simply because they’re unable to make bail.”
As of April, the foundation said its assessment tool was used by about 40 cities, counties and states.
The foundation said that over the next five years, pretrial researchers will work with 10 diverse jurisdictions to receive training, technical expertise and implementation of pretrial risk assessments locally.
The advocacy group statement on Monday argued that because “police officers disproportionately arrest people of color, criminal justice data used for training the tools will perpetuate this correlation.”
The groups said the “main problem that has caused the mass incarceration of innocent people pretrial is the detention of individuals perceived as dangerous (‘preventive detention’). Though the Constitution requires that this practice be the rare and “carefully limited exception,” it has instead become the norm. Risk assessment tools exacerbate this issue by relying upon a prediction of future arrest as a proxy for so-called ‘danger.’ ”
Some developers of risk assessment tools have refused to make public the details of their design and operation.
Monday’s statement by critical groups declared that, “The design of pretrial risk assessment instruments must be public, not secret or proprietary.”
Among the groups signing the statement were the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Employment Law Project, and the Prison Policy Initiative.
In response to the criticism, the Arnold Foundation said that the groups’ statement “misconstrues the role of risk assessments.”
Risk assessments “do not make pretrial release decisions or replace a judge’s discretion,” the foundation said. “They provide judges and other court officers with information they can choose to consider—or not—when making release decisions.
“We believe—and early research shows—that this type of data-informed approach can help reduce pretrial detention, address racial disparities and increase public safety.”
Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, which has pursued bail reform since the 1960s, said that Vera agrees with the critics’ goals but did not sign the statement because, “We help implement risk assessments when they will improve upon the often standardless and arbitrary regimes that exist in much of America.”
Turner agreed that risk assessments are not a panacea for inequities in the bail system.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
David Muhlhausen, director of the Justice Department’s research agency, predicted at a Washington DC meeting that research will play “an ever more important role in how the criminal justice field operates.” The National Institute of Justice gave $221 million in grants last year.
Research will play “an ever more important role in how the criminal justice field operates,” says National Institute of Justice (NIJ) director David Muhlhausen.
Muhlhausen, who was appointed to NIJ last year by President Trump, made the prediction last week as current and former agency leaders gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of federal anticrime research.
NIJ was established in part as a result of a 1967 report by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, which urged more anti-crime aid from the federal government to state and local justice systems.
NIJ Director David Muhlhausen
Last year, the agency awarded nearly $221 million in grants, compared with $2.9 million in its first year, which amounts to $21.4 million in today’s dollars. One grant in that inaugural year was for a paltry $45.
Muhlhausen said last week that, “As our ability to collect and analyze data continues to improve, we will see an increase in the number of research studies and evaluations conducted as randomized controlled trials.”
The director added, “Over the past decade, the evidence-based movement has
begun to take hold in criminal justice. Over the next 50 years, I see data, evidence, and research becoming not just a tool for criminal justice practitioners, but an integral and indispensable part of all criminal justice operations.”
Two former NIJ directors, James K. (Chips) Stewart from the Reagan administration and John Laub from the Obama administration, also addressed the anniversary gathering.
Stewart recalled that at the time of his nomination as NIJ director in 1982, policymakers in Washington generally had a poor impression of the impact of social science research on criminal justice. They often quoted an early-1970s paper by Robert Martinson that concluded “nothing works” to fight crime.
Stewart, a former police officer himself, took the view that NIJ could help police, courts, and corrections agencies around the U.S. verify what approaches do work.
An early experiment supported by NIJ was an examination in Newark, N.J., and Houston by criminologist Lawrence Sherman on how police officers could make a measurable difference in local communities’ sense of safety, Stewart recalled. Crime dropped in the areas studied. The study was received skeptically in Congress, many of whose members favored sending more offenders to prison as the main response to rising crime rates, Stewart said.
Stewart cited several NIJ-supported research projects that had practical results, such as the development of “hot spots” policing in which officers concentrated on proved high-crime areas, requiring drug testing for suspects who were released pending trial, improving body armor that saved many police officers’ lives, and promoting less-than-lethal alternatives than firearms for police use of force.
He hailed the development of DNA evidence analysis, which both identified suspects who had eluded arrest and freed suspects who were mistakenly accused and convicted.
Stewart, who now is based at CNA, a Virginia-based nonprofit research and analysis organization, suggested that NIJ make its future research agenda “more outcome-focused.”
Among questions that deserve more research, he said, are why crime hasdropped in many cities but increased in some, like Chicago and Philadelphia, and how former police chief Bill Bratton was able to help decrease crime both in New York City and Los Angeles.
Stewart urged studying how Camden, N.J., which once was crime-plagued, has seen rates of lawbreaking down and attracted business investments. Police Chief Scott Thompson, who also spoke at the NIJ anniversary, has assigned 80 percent of patrol officers to work in the community and has only 20 percent responding to 911 calls, Stewart said.
Laub, the former NIJ director who returned to his post as a criminologist at the University of Maryland, told the anniversary event that, “Science – not intuition or gut instinct – needs to inform justice policies, practices, and programs.” He cited several subjects on which intuition was wrong: “If you reduce crime, you will reduce fear of crime … As the severity of punishment goes up, crime will go down … (and) boot camps will reduce delinquency and crime.”
Laub urged NIJ to focus on three major areas: “the nature of crime, the causes of
crime, and the response to crime.” He backs the notion of “translational criminology,” meaning that, “If we want to prevent, reduce, and manage crime, scientific discoveries must be translated into policy and practice.”
Laub noted that two of the biggest developments of recent decades—the major increase in prison populations and the decline in crime rates—had no research portfolio at NIJ when he arrived in 2010.
NIJ supported several projects to address these issues, including a National Academies of Sciences study of the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration, a roundtable on crime trends, and research on such subjects as race, crime, and victimization; the victim-offender overlap; police legitimacy, and swift and certain criminal sanctions.
The federal agency has funded an Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety at Harvard, in which “the leading police executives and researchers come together on a regular basis to tackle the major issues facing the field.”
NIJ also is backing an Executive Session on Community Corrections at Harvard.
Laub concluded that NIJ must “do all it can to promote evidence-based policies within the federal government” and to fund “empirical research to inform DOJ policies on matters such as immigration and crime, crime trends, drug use and crime, forensic sciences, and sentencing.” The agency “should strive to be bold and tackle the hard problems,” he said.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The Trump administration wants to change the direction of a longstanding partnership with nonprofits aimed at reducing prison populations. Thirty-five states have taken part in the program.
Advocates of the 11-year-old national Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) are worried that the Trump administration plans to scuttle federal involvement in the project.
JRI encourages states to reduce prison populations and reinvest money that is saved in programs that help ex-inmates reenter society successfully.
The advocates’ concern is based on two recent developments.
Early this year, the administration asked Congress to end funding for federal participation in JRI, starting with the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Congress hasn’t completed the spending process for next year, but both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees rebuffed the request and included money for justice reinvestment in their proposed budgets for next year.
The Senate panel would fund the program for $28 million. The House panel provided $30 million, although $5 million of that is for anticrime projects unrelated to the core JRI concept. (See earlier coverage in The Crime Report.)
In it, DOJ sought proposals for a different concept for JRI, one 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 department then announced a “Justice Accountability Initiative” that it says “has been developed to meet the JRI goals to reduce recidivism and reform the system by improving the effectiveness of risk assessments and to be more data-driven system-wide.”
The DOJ plan proposes to start pilot projects that would improve risk assessment tools that are now being tested to predict repeat criminality among those on probation.
As of 2016, there were 6.8 million people in the U.S. under the supervision of adult correctional systems, with nearly 4.6 million of them on probation or parole.
DOJ says that today’s probation and parole caseloads typically “include high risk individuals who pose a greater threat to public safety and have more criminogenic needs that may require additional services and increased supervision.”
“While the use of risk assessments has become wider spread,” DOJ says, “the effectiveness and objectivity of these tools could be improved, updated, or better utilized.”
DOJ is seeking applicants by July 30 that would ‘”develop a new, or improve an existing, risk assessment tool, moving it to a more scientifically rigorous and objective risk prediction tool (based on a computer-driven algorithm), and develop aligned offender monitoring and supervision plans and policies.”
The Justice Department also wants grantees to do related projects, such as assessing current supervision strategies for former prisoners “and their impact on crime and recidivism and train staff in supervision strategies.”
Other aspects of the proposal include assessing a suggested “data-sharing system” for localities “that would focus on crime and recidivism among offenders released into their communities” and to “improve justice system partners’ abilities to produce a cross-system analysis that provides a better understanding of the contributions of pretrial, probation, parole, reentry, and other services to crime trends.”
The Justice Department proposal, which calls for spending $20 million next year, did not explicitly say that it would end the long-term partnership with outside entities on JRI.
DOJ officials would not elaborate to The Crime Report, but at least one Trump administration official in the department has said he believes that JRI is not consistent with the administration’s “tough on crime” practices.
In a fact sheet issued this week, Pew Charitable Trusts, the principal nonprofit that has partnered with the Justice Department on JRI, said that since 2007, 35 states have reformed sentencing and corrections policies through the initiative.
Other non-federal entities involved in the project are the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Crime and Justice Institute, and other organizations. The partnering organizations declined to comment on the DOJ actions.
It is possible that they will ask members of Congress who support the current direction of JRI to object to the Trump administration’s changes.
As described by Pew, the state reforms vary, but they “aim to improve public safety and control taxpayer costs by prioritizing prison space for people convicted of serious offenses and investing some of the savings in alternatives to incarceration that are effective at reducing recidivism.”
Since 2007, state imprisonment totals have dropped by 11 percent while crime rates have continued a long-term decline, Pew said. State justice reinvestment laws are expected to save billions of dollars in imprisonment costs.
The Pew publication includes a chart that lists various reforms enacted by states. The policy changes date from laws passed by Texas in 2007 that include easing terms of probation and improving government interventions in offenders’ mental health problems.
Six states passed JRI-related reforms last year, Pew said, including Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Rhode Island, and North Dakota.
It was not immediately clear whether Pew would continue the aspects of the JRI project that involve helping states pass legislation on corrections issues if the federal government ends its participation.
Louisiana, which had led the nation in state incarceration rates, recently moved to number two behind Oklahoma as the result of changes enacted as part of the JRI initiative.
This week, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that the state had saved $12.2 million in the current fiscal year, doubling Pew’s initial projections of $6.1 million.
One aspect of the new DOJ Justice Accountability Initiative that could delay or derail it is that like other Justice Department grant programs, applicants must cooperate with federal officials on immigration issues. In other words, “sanctuary cities” or “sanctuary states” would not qualify.
Lawsuits already are pending challenging such requirements for other grants. It is possible that applicants also will contest that announced limitation on the new initiative.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Analyzing federal data, the Violence Policy Center says that states with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest gun suicide rates.
States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest gun suicide rates, says the Violence Policy Center, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.
States with the lowest gun suicide rates have lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws.
The center based its conclusions on analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The analysis uses gun suicide rates in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.
The state with the highest per capita gun suicide rate in 2016 was Montana, followed by Alaska. The center said both states have “extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership”
The state with the lowest gun suicide rate was New Jersey, followed by Massachusetts. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.
The number of Americans killed in gun suicides increased to 22,938 in 2016 from 22,018 in 2015. The nationwide gun suicide rate in 2016 was 7.10 per 100,000, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2015’s gun suicide rate of 6.86 per 100,000.
The center’s Kristen Rand said that, “Firearms are the key factor in whether a suicide attempt is completed or not. Reducing access to firearms is a critical step in addressing this clear public health threat.”
In 2016, there were 44,965 suicides in the U.S., 123 per day and one suicide every 11.7 minutes. A firearm was used in more than half (51 percent) of cases.
The center defined states with “weak” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public.
States with “strong” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is not coverfed by federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.
Why did homicides increase in 2015 and 2016? Some blame the opioid epidemic and others point to the “Ferguson effect” on police, but criminologists say neither explanation is supported by data.
No one is sure why the homicide total in the US increased in both 2015 and 2016, but experts gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss two popular theories: that the change had to do with police withdrawal of services in response to anti-police sentiment after officer-involved shootings—the so-called “Ferguson effect”—or that it was related to the increase in overdose deaths from opoids.
The basic conclusion was that neither theory explains the trend, and that more research is needed on local trends to establish the cause.
The occasion was the third annual “ask a criminologist” session sponsored by the Crime & Justice Research Alliance and the Consortium of Social Science Associations.
The issue of depolicing has been called the “Ferguson effect,” because of anecdotal reports of a reduction in law enforcement activity after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and subsequent anti-police protests.
Criminologist Shytierra Gaston of Indiana University told the briefing that at least some of the homicide rises in 2015 and 2016 might have been related to the idea of “street justice,” that some citizens are “taking matters into our own hands” and not relying on police officers, some of whom reportedly have been acting more cautiously in the aftermath of public criticism over Ferguson and other police shootings.
But it’s not clear how much “depolicing” actually has been occurring, said Howard Spivak, deputy director of the National Institute of Justice, the US Justice Department’s research arm.
Spivak said the available data don’t back the idea that the “Ferguson effect” was a causal factor in rising homicide totals, particularly those involving white victims.
The other major crime trend in recent years is the sharp rise in overdose deaths attributed to opioids.
Spivak said it is clearer in that case that homicides involving white people have been “associated with opioid commerce and use,” but association doesn’t necessarily mean causality.
Police Chief Richard Biehl of Dayton, Ohio, whose city is in one of the areas hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, agreed that there is no proof of the opioid-homicide link.
Drug-related murders in Dayton rose markedly both in 2015 and 2016, reflecting the national trend.
Yet both homicides and violent crime generally dropped fairly sharply last year as opioid overdoses continued to increase, Biehl said. He added that opioids were linked only to about seven percent of murders.
The experts agreed that more analysis is needed of changing homicide rates in localities.
National data may mask the fact that changes in particular city totals may differ from the apparent U.S. trend.
Spivak noted that, as was the case in Dayton, in some cities violent crime is down while opioid overdoses have increased, raising questions about a possible connection.
Speakers lamented the demise of the federally funded Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program (ADAM), which tested arrestees in many cities for drug use between 1987 and 2004. The testing later was resumed on a limited basis from 2007 to 2014.
Without ADAM, it’s difficult to link drug abuse definitively to criminal activity on a citywide or national basis.
Both Chief Biehl and Nancy La Vigne of the Urban Institute, who moderated the expert discussion, said they would welcome the resumption of ADAM or a program like it.
Spivak, whose agency blamed lack of funding for ending the program in several dozen places, said there is still no money available at NIJ to re-start the drug testing program.
Spivak and Gaston co-authored with criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri – St.Louis a report on the subjects discussed in Tuesday’s briefing, and Rosenfeld wrote about it in The Crime Report last December.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.
On the 10th anniversary of the Second Chance Act, veteran corrections administrator and researcher Stefan LoBuglio says attitudes towards prisoner reentry have undergone a “sea change” since the 1990s. But in an extended chat with TCR, he warns of a retrenchment in programming that threatens the overall functioning of the U.S. corrections system.
Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the federal Second Chance Act, which has provided aid for state and federal prisoner reentry programs. President Trump declared April “Second Chance Month” to bring attention to programs that “provide opportunities for people with criminal records to earn an honest second chance.”
To assess the state of prisoner reentry in 2018, The Crime Report spoke to Stefan LoBuglio, who recently completed a three-year stint as director of the National Reentry Resource Center at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. LoBuglio, a former corrections administrator in Massachusetts and Maryland, will speak in Kigali, Rwanda, next week at the Eighth International Conference on Human Rights and Prison Reform.
The Crime Report: Prisoner reentry became a public issue in the 1990s when then-Attorney General Janet Reno called attention to the fact that more than 600,000 prisoners are released back into society every year. What is your recollection of that era?
StefanLoBuglio: There were earlier milestones in this field. One was the early-1970s publication of the review by sociologist Robert Martinson, declaring that “nothing works” in inmate rehabilitation. In the 1970s, we saw suspicion of the corrections system amid the large growth of in-prison population that continued roughly until the year 2000. There has been enormous energy, research and support of the prisoner reentry field, starting at least with Jeremy Travis at the National Institute of Justice near the end of the Clinton administration, and continuing through the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. When I began working in corrections in 1992, the job was usually defined by the mantra “care, custody and control.” When you asked a corrections administrator about recidivism, you’d be told, “That is not my responsibility.”
In the 25-plus years since then, there has been a sea change. When you go to meetings of corrections administrators now, there is talk about adding “community” to the mantra, and there are hundreds of programs under the Second Chance Act and other laws to improve prisoner reentry. It was once called “reintegration,” but the lexicon did change to “reentry” in the 1990s. One question people were asking is why inmates should have the opportunity to get things like college degrees when people in free society didn’t have that access? Reentry was framed not as a question of what inmates deserved but of necessity—they were going to be released and we had to prepare them.
TCR: Another, different, anniversary related to the issue of prisoner reentry was marked this year: the “Willie Horton episode,” which many observers at the time believed was a factor in Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ loss to Vice President George W. Bush in the 1988 presidential contest.
LoBuglio: Horton was a violent and horrible case that had wide repercussions for the field and led to the retrenchment of programs and facilities that allowed individuals to be released gradually back into the community. There was widespread support at the time for such opportunities for people who were soon to be released. Horton was in a furlough program, but there were also many “work-release” programs that were very popular.
Inmates could get jobs, reengage with their families, and seek the support of those community institutions of interest to them. Those programs had become part of the corrections infrastructure, but they disappeared overnight in 1988, and even 30 years later, they are still absent. For 11 years, I worked in the corrections department of Montgomery County, Maryland,, where we ran such programs, and demonstrated the ability to transition violent and non-violent offenders back into the community for those who were soon-to-be released. In corrections, we are not making the sentencing decisions, but rather dealing with the reality that most individuals will leave at some point after serving their court imposed sentence.
A campaign button from Michael Dukakis’ doomed 1988 presidential campaign. Photo by palemon escobio via flickr
More recently, in following this area for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, I was struck by how few jurisdictions maintain these release-transition programs. Thirty years after the Horton case, with our better technology and communications, we should be rethinking how to incorporate work-release for the people who are coming back to the community.
TCR: Were laws like the one that allowed Horton’s furlough common?
LoBuglio: Such programs were not unusual back then. What was so dramatic about the Horton case was that he was a convicted first-degree murderer. After it happened, there were wholesale cancellations of prison systems’ contracts with halfway houses, and those programs that remained were tightly restricted. The debate shouldn’t be focused on transitioning the most heinous criminals but rather whether the vast majority of people in the corrections system have the opportunity to be housed in places like work-release centers.
In my three years at the Council of State Governments, it was clear that programs in prison to prepare inmates for release are not yet robust. Our national conversation on reentry is focused on community corrections, probation and parole. We haven’t really talked much about re-instituting work-release programs in prison. Remember that well over 90 percent of state and federal prisoners are released at some point, and between nine and 12 million people cycle in and out of jails each year.
More people should have the opportunity to use community resources before their release, under strict supervision. Even programs that purport to provide pre-release service don’t. Years ago, I visited the Baltimore pre-release center that housed about 300 people, but only about 30 or 35 were going out on a regular basis for jobs.
TCR: We hear about prisoners who finish their terms just being loaded on a bus. Is that what really happens?
LoBuglio: It used to be predominantly true, and it still is too often true. They might be given just $40 in “gate money.” Much of the support for better reentry procedures in the early 2000s came from reports that people in solitary confinement literally went from being in shackles and chains to being released into the community. In a good corrections system, you want people to be properly classified, for example starting in medium security general population and being able to have their security classifications “stepped-down” to minimum, and to be placed in work-release programs as they neared their release date.
The retrenchment in pre-release centers and the use of halfway-house beds has had an effect of constipating the overall functioning of the corrections system, and having too many individuals “stuck” at medium classification. There should be opportunities for people in prison to behave well, and that if they play by the rules, they should get commensurate privileges. Behavioral change is most likely to happen when you have a clear set of rules to go by.
Years ago, economist Anne Morrison Piehl of Rutgers University interviewed inmates at the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center and found that most all of them could recite from memory what actions they needed to perform to even receive small benefits. Her paper for the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute called the “Powers of Small Rewards” is a reminder that good corrections involves setting up a clear and fair system of rewards and sanctions to encourage behavioral change. If you have the possibility of getting work-release status for a person serving, say, five to seven years, that is a powerful inducement.
Studies of causes of disturbances in prisons have put lack of programming and lack of fairness for inmates at the top of the list. We’re not running correctional institutions as safely as we could. Doing it well provides an element of safety for corrections officers as well as for inmates.
TCR: We’ve mentioned the Second Chance Act. Some people may not realize that it was proposed and signed by President George W. Bush and was pushed by conservatives such as the late Charles Colson.
Editor’s Note: The late Charles Colson, an aide to President Richard Nixon, served seven months in prison in the Watergate scandal and later founded the Prison Fellowship.
LoBuglio: Yes, the Second Chance Act was a bipartisan measure that was co-sponsored by Vice President Mike Pence when he was in Congress in 2008. The main sponsors were Republican Rep. Rob Portman, later director of the Office of Management and Budget and now a U.S. Senator, and Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont. There was a remarkable bipartisan consensus for Second Chance, supported also by faith-based organizations.
The law was an acknowledgement that the federal government has a role in determining what works to reduce recidivism. There was a recognition that recidivism rates of people who had been in prisons and jails was too high. Also, states and localities didn’t have the ability to do the research and development. The Second Chance Act helped establish research in this area. The correction system consumes an enormous part of state and local budgets, and almost all of that goes to staffing, building and health care.
The federal system used to be the gold standard in corrections systems, and one part of that was setting the bar high. The National Institute of Corrections [in the Justice Department] plays a role in raising the professionalism in the field. In 2008, there was a recognition that states and localities didn’t have enough information, knowledge and resources to do the experiments to figure out what works in corrections. The legislations provided the funding mechanism for the federal government to seed prisoner reentry of different types across the country. More than 800 programs have been funded.
About $500 million has been spent under the law since 2008. To help create and spread new knowledge, the National Reentry Resource Center was created in the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which has run it since 2009. The spending under the law is a relatively small figure, but it is significant because corrections is an $88 billion annual enterprise – this part of it represents the R&D. Without it, there would be nothing. The law plays the role of a catalyst in reentry. There are about 5,000 total correctional institutions in this country including 3,000 county and municipal jails. Not many states have had a major commitment to rehabilitation. In some states there has been a tradition of good corrections systems. Many states have not been able to keep up.
The federal prison system used to be known as the gold standard in corrections. It’s quite startling to see now how denuded the system has become. That has been true in state after state – a wholesale retrenchment in programming. We now have the ability to rebuild the programming infrastructure based on sound evidence. We are much smarter in 2018, knowing much better what we should see in corrections.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center held a “50-state summit” on corrections last November, when Georgia Supreme Court Justice Michael Boggs talked about significant reforms that the state has taken through Justice Reinvestment but he recognized that almost all of them to date dealt with nonviolent offenders. He explained that the next chapter of this work will need to address violent offenders. In 2018 we should be talking about what we can be doing regarding interventions with violent offenders who will be released. That subject needs a dramatic review. We are risk-averse because of Willie Horton-type cases.
As corrections populations nationwide have declined, we need better research to develop a full panoply of correctional innovations, especially because a large proportion of inmates in some correctional facilities are higher-risk people. Those people present generally more complex and more challenging cases.
TCR: The overall recidivism rate is often summarized as two-thirds to three-fourths of former inmates being rearrested in the three years after they are freed. Do we know if that general picture has changed?
LoBuglio: Some states have been able to reduce their recidivism rates. One way it happens is through changes in sanctioning policies so that there are intermediate steps before someone on probation winds up in custody. We have demonstrated that we’re able to reduce recidivism first and foremost through administrative action (changing revocation policy), but also through behavioral change.
Possibly the best study was done by the Urban Institute of Allegheny County, Pa., which found that participation by one group of inmates in a reentry program reduced recidivism by 30 percent.
What concerns me is that the national evaluations have not been very helpful in providing us with good advice. The challenge is to determine whether there are programs with sufficient quality and substance to make a difference. It is very challenging to maintain high quality programs with sufficient dosage. Some discussions with inmates, for example, may devolve into rap sessions. There are many implementation challenges. It’s difficult to give a probationer or parolee sufficient content to make a difference. People have many demands on them, such as maintaining a family. It’s much easier to help them if they are in a correctional setting.
TCR: Some experts have suggested that we should start preparing inmates to leave prison on the day they enter custody. Is that a worthy goal, and does any place actually try to do it?
LoBuglio: I agree with the theory. Some people even say that reentry preparation should begin when someone is arrested. Ideally, there should be a risk-need assessment of someone as soon as they enter custody and a programmatic plan developed. The best implementation of this that I’ve seen was done by Michael Ashe when he was sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts.
There used to be a belief that you can’t start the rehabilitation of individuals until 10 or 15 years down the line. Others say you can’t do much if the person is going to be in jail for only a week. What is the ideal period? This used to be referred as the Goldilocks problem: Is the period to short or too long for rehabilitation, and what is the “just right” period? Well, the answer is “do something” in every case, and recognize that it will be necessarily different based on resources and time remaining.The answer is an individualized treatment plan that takes into consideration sentence length and victims. Some people might have 10 years remaining to serve, but need lots of education and substance abuse treatment. You might have only 50 slots in a program and have to choose between a prisoner who has 20 years to serve and one with six months.
TCR: Where would you say that the U.S. stands generally on prisoner reentry?
LoBuglio: There has been dramatic change in some corrections systems that are paying attention and are focused on change. There have been great gains in the reduction of jail populations, but that can mean more challenges dealing with the people who remain in custody, who are much more difficult to deal with. We shouldn’t be surprised if those people have high rates of failure.
I think we need to look at systemic changes rather than programmatic ones.
We need to change the conditions of confinement, for example, so that some people don’t need to stay in prison so long on the front end, and we can focus on the high-risk individuals who remain there. We need a new type of facility that will wrap in medical and mental health treatment, and we must improve the collaboration between other agencies. We need more businesses as stakeholders. More businesses are rethinking their policies and hiring ex-offenders. It’s new and different to have them at the table—an important part of the conversation on reentry.
We also have more formerly incarcerated people taking part in reentry programs, bringing a level of reality to them.
There are many social service providers involved in prisoner reentry, but the quality of services is very uneven. If there were a rating service like “Yelp” in the social service area, that would be very helpful. It would be good to strengthen the social service community with a smaller number of providers with better quality services.
TCR: Have programs funded under the Second Chance Act been evaluated?
TCR: What do you make of the Trump administration’s interest in prisoner reentry?
LoBuglio: They changed the name of the interagency council established during the Obama administration, to add the term “crime prevention.” It makes sense to have federal agencies working in concert on this issue. The important thing now is for Congress to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which I’m hoping will happen with all of its bipartisan support.
Ted Gest is Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report and president of Criminal Justice Journalists. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House committee that oversees Justice Department funding, has proposed increasing a program aimed at reducing state prison populations and recidivism that the Trump administration wanted to kill. The chairman also sought a small reduction in the FBI budget, plus increases for immigration judges and the Trump-supported Project Safe Neighborhoods program.
For nearly a decade, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has supported a concept known as “justice reinvestment,” which encourages states to manage their prison populations better and invest the money that is saved in programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
DOJ has recently been devoting about $25 million annually to the program, a minuscule sum in a cabinet department that has more than $30 billion to spend each year, but still enough to fund work in several states. Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota and Georgia passed legislation this year based on justice reinvestment principles, the Justice Department says.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project also pursues justice reinvestment in conjunction with the Justice Department. Pew declines to say how much it spends, but it probably is much less than the federal appropriation. The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Vera Institute of Justice help run the program.
In February, the Trump administration unexpectedly asked Congress to end federal involvement in justice reinvestment.
The White House said it would rather spend the money directly fighting violent crime and on projects under the federal Second Chance Act that help released inmates reenter society successfully.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t speak about the program directly, but DOJ watchers noted that given his tough-on-crime rhetoric and his opposition to bills that would reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences, he would be unlikely to have much enthusiasm about a project that aims to reduce state prison populations.
The Trump plan failed its first test on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, chairman John Culberson (R-TX) of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department budget released his spending plan for the year starting Oct. 1. It did not seek to kill the program as Trump sought, but rather proposed to increase annual funding for justice reinvestment to $30 million.
It is important to note that the initial DOJ spending proposal, which will be considered on Wednesday by the full subcommittee, has a long way to go through the legislative process in both the House and Senate and could be subject to change.
Still, support of justice reinvestment by a conservative committee chairman should go a long way toward keeping the program intact, given that most Democrats and many Republicans have backed it in the past.
Recently, 68 House members supported continued funding for justice reinvestment. They asserted that states had saved a combined total of more than $1.1 billion under the the program, and that crime has continued dropping in most of the states involved. Sixteen senators signed a similar letter.
Pew reports that 34 states have changed their laws on sentencing or prisons since 2007 under the justice reinvestment initiative. Pew says that “reforms prioritize the use of prison for serious and violent offenses while expanding alternatives to imprisonment for those who can be supervised more effectively and at less expense in the community.”
Asked before Tuesday’s subcommittee proposal about the Trump administration call to end federal backing for justice reinvestment, Pew’s Adam Gelb told The Crime Report that, “The Justice Reinvestment Initiative has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress for the last 8 years, and that’s been because state leaders from both parties have made clear to their federal representatives that consensus-driven policy based on the best available data can deliver a better public safety return on investment.
“We anticipate Congress will continue funding the Justice Reinvestment Initiative as states continue to deliver results.”
Overall, the House subcommittee budget proposal would give an increase to DOJ of nearly $800 million. Among major items included, according to the subcommittee and to the National Criminal Justice Association, are:
An additional 100 immigration judge teams, which along with 100 more judicial teams being added this year “should drastically reduce the immigration case backlog,” the subcommittee said.
For the Drug Enforcement Administration, $130 million additional to help national opioid enforcement efforts and targeting major drug trafficking organizations.
An increase of $23 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help cut violent crime, among other uses.
An $81 million budget reduction for the FBI, which would get $9.3 billion overall. The cut was attributed to lower “construction funding.”
$2.9 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance grant programs including $493 million for Violence Against Women Act programs, $442 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, $255 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, 48 million for Reduce Sexual Assault Kits Backlog grants, $100 million for Anti-Human Trafficking grants, $380 million for Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act grants.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, an anticrime program that is a high priority o the Trump administration, would get $50 million, up from $20 million.
The new STOP School Violence Act would be funded at $100 million, primarily for grants to states for violence prevention training for teachers and students, development of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, development of school threat assessment and intervention teams, security assessments, and coordination with local law enforcement. Funds in this program previously were used for academic research, which the Trump administration opposed.
Hiring of community police officers under the COPS program would be reduced from $150 million to $91 million.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.
Michigan Sen, Gary Peters, a key sponsor of a bill to create a national commission studying the criminal justice system similar to the landmark LBJ-era effort, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” He told a Washington briefing that the more incidents occur involving failures by criminal justice officials, “the more people lose trust in the system.”
A Michigan senator who is advocating for a congressional commission to conduct a national study of the criminal justice system says he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will approve the measure this year.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) made the comment Tuesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University on behalf of the American Society of Criminology, which has just published a volume focused on what a new commission could accomplish.
Peters, who is leading the fight for the bill with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said he is concerned that the more incidents that occur involving failures by criminal justice officials, “the more people lose trust in the system.”
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters via Wikipedia
He added: “Democracy can’t function without trust.”
Peters said that 39 senators have endorsed the bill, which would create a 14-member commission to do the first major system-wide study of its kind since a panel appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a landmark report 50 years ago titled “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society.”
A similar attempt by then-Sen. James Webb (D-VA) to create a national criminal justice commission failed by three votes in 2011 to achieve a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
Prospects for the commission this year are uncertain in a Congress that is passing little substantive legislation on criminal justice or other subjects.
In recent years, the commission has been included in broader legislation on federal sentencing reform, but that measure is opposed by the Trump administration, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as an Alabama senator, voted against proposals to reduce many mandatory minimum prison sentences.
The House Judiciary Committee may take up a bill on Wednesday that deals with prison reform measures that are favored by the White House to improve prisoner reentry programs.
Committee members are nearing agreement on the bill, which could reach the floor in early May, Politico reports.
The legislation, which would establish training programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates, is the product of months of negotiation between Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Attorney General Sessions.
In the Senate, Cornyn has said that if the prison bill can be approved by the House, he will try to get a version approved by the Senate that includes establishing a crime commission.
Obstacles remain, however. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) still favors a broad sentencing reform bill, as do many Democrats. Some Democrats would prefer that no criminal justice bill is approved this year, in the hope that they can regain control of one or both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections and pass a stronger bill next year.
At the Tuesday briefing, criminologists spoke to congressional staff members and others in a review of what the LBJ-era crime commission recommended in major fields, what research has established in the last half-century, and what a new commission might advocate.
Speakers included Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University on science and technology; Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University on policing; Doris Mackenzie of Penn State University on corrections; Cassia Spohn of the University of Arizona on prosecution; Jodi Lane of the University of Florida on juvenile justice; Robert Crutchfield of the University of Washington on race and criminal justice; Bryce Pardo of the University of Maryland on narcotics; Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland and the University of Cambridge and Joanne Belknap of the University of Colorado on domestic violence; and Paul Wormeli of the IJIS Institute on crime statistics.
The project was funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and was headed by Ted Gest of Criminal Justice Journalists and The Crime Report and Cynthia Lum of the George Mason Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy.
Ted Gest is Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report