Lessons from the States

The Urban Institute, July 2014.

prison-reform-US-StatesWithout a doubt, in recent year the states have demonstrated tremendous leadership on correctional reform. As detailed in our recent Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) State Assessment Report,1 which highlights the experiences of 17 states, this leadership is characterized by (1) a bipartisan commitment to reform; (2) the use of data on current sentencing and corrections practices to inform policy; (3) a focus on responsible reform designed to reserve prison for those who pose the greatest risk to public safety; and (4) the expanded use of evidence-based practices (EBPs). Among these comprehensive reform efforts, many JRI states have slowed prison growth, reduced overcrowding, and saved taxpayers money without sacrificing public safety and other states are projected to do so. The crime rate in almost all of states that have reduced their prison populations has continued to decline.

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Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States

by The Sentencing Project, 2014

Although the pace of criminal justice reform has accelerated at both the federal and state levels in the past decade, current initiatives have had only a modest effect on the size of the prison population. But over this period, three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – have achieved prison population reductions in the range of 25%. They have also seen their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.

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The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry

Prison Policy Initiative, 2013

Ten years ago, the Prison Policy Initiative and the Western Prison Project set out to compile a reliable and compelling set of statistics about the rapidly growing criminal justice system. In 611 facts and 17 graphs and charts, we gave advocates, journalists and policymakers a view on where the country was, where it had been, and what the future of criminal justice could be.

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S.1675 – Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2014

US Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2014 – (Sec. 2) Directs the Attorney General to: (1) conduct a review of recidivism reduction programming and productive activities, including prison jobs, offered in correctional institutions; (2) conduct a survey to identify products currently manufactured overseas that could be manufactured by prisoners without reducing job opportunities for other U.S. workers; and (3) submit to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations and the Judiciary a strategic plan for the expansion of recidivism reduction programming and productive activities, including prison jobs, in Bureau of Prison facilities.

Amends the federal criminal code to direct the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to make available appropriate recidivism reduction programming or productive activities, including prison jobs, to all eligible prisoners and to assign such prisoners to such activities using the Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System developed by the Attorney General. Defines “eligible prisoner” to mean a prisoner serving a sentence of incarceration for conviction of a federal offense, but excludes a prisoner whom the Bureau of Prisons determines: (1) is medically unable to successfully complete recidivism reduction activities, (2) would present a security risk if permitted to participate in such activities, or (3) is serving a sentence of incarceration of less than one month.

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Recidivism Of Prisoners Released In 1994

Patrick A. Langan, Ph.D., David J. Levin, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2, 2002

Sixty-seven percent of former inmates released from state prisons in 1994 committed at least one serious new crime within the following three years, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. This was a rearrest rate 5 percent higher than that among prisoners released during 1983.

State prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were those who had been incarcerated for stealing motor vehicles (79 percent), possessing or selling stolen property (77 percent), larceny (75 percent), burglary (74 percent), robbery (70 percent) or those using, possessing or trafficking in illegal weapons (70 percent).

Those with the lowest rearrest rates were former inmates who had been in prison for homicide (41 percent), sexual assault (41 percent), rape (46 percent) or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (51 percent).

About 1 percent of the released prisoners who had served time for murder were arrested for another homicide within three years, and about 2 percent of the rapists were arrested for another rape within that period.

Within three years, 52 percent of the 272,111 released prisoners were back in prison either because of a new crime or because they had violated their parole conditions (e.g., failed a drug test, missed a parole office appointment).

Men were more likely to be rearrested than were women (68 percent, compared to 58 percent), blacks more likely than whites (73 percent vs. 63 percent) and non-Hispanics more than Hispanics (71 percent vs. 65 percent). Younger prisoners and those with longer records were also more likely to be rearrested.

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Do you know where the children are? A Report of Massachusetts Youth Unlawfully Held Without Bail

Barbara Fedders and Barbara Kaban, Prison Policy Initiative, September 15, 2006

In 2004, over four thousand Massachusetts children and youth between the ages of seven and seventeen spent time behind bars — in some cases up to four days — after their arrest and prior to their first court appearance. While the law requires that young people must be at least fourteen years old to be detained, more than five hundred children under fourteen were so held that year.

Massachusetts law also provides that a party empowered by the judicial branch — a judge, magistrate, or bail commissioner — should review detention decisions about arrested youths, but many children and adolescents are unlawfully deprived of this opportunity. Routinely, decisions to detain young people are based solely on juvenile probation officers’ recommendations, which are made pursuant to a cursory consideration of facts, and without benefit of written procedures or guidelines – all in violation of due process principles. Probation officers frequently recommend detention for youths accused of minor offenses, rather than reserving it for the most serious and dangerous offenders.

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States of Incarceration: The Global Context

Prison Policy Initiative, 2014

The state of Louisiana is often called out for having the highest incarceration rate in the world. But in the global context, how far behind are the other 49 states, really? This report finds that the disturbing answer is “Not very far.”

Around the globe, governments respond to illegal activity and social unrest in many ways. Here in the United States, policymakers in the 1970s made the decision to start incarcerating Americans at globally unprecedented rates. The decades that followed have revealed that the growth in the U.S. prison population can be more closely attributed to ideological policy choices than actual crime rates. The record also shows that our country’s experiment with mass incarceration has not managed to significantly enhance public safety, but instead has consistently and disproportionately stunted the social and economic well-being of poor communities and communities of color for generations.

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The NCSC Sentencing Attitudes Survey: A Report on the Findings

National Center for State Courts, July 2006

The climate of public opinion toward crime and punishment in this country has changed considerably over the past decade. As the national crime rate has declined, crime is less likely to be in the forefront of people’s minds and – with the exception of certain high-profile crimes and cases involving celebrities – is less prominent in media coverage. What had been a frequent polling topic 10 years ago gets much less attention today. Moreover, recent surveys about crime often fail to specifically address public attitudes toward sentencing, or have examined the issue from one particular ideological point of view. The NCSC Sentencing Attitudes Survey, a national poll of 1,502 randomly selected adults, was designed to fill this void by delivering specific, unbiased information about what people think and why. The new survey thoroughly examines the American public’s views toward sentencing and related issues in an objective manner. The new survey was preceded by a review of past survey data. This review revealed that, similar to controversial issues like immigration, abortion, and capital punishment, sentencing is a topic on which public opinion cannot be properly characterized by simply relying on the general measures so commonly used. More specific lines of questioning were developed to dig deeper, clarify previous findings and identify the competing values and concerns underlying sentencing attitudes.

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Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms

The Pew Charitable Trusts, June 06, 2012

The length of time served in prison has increased markedly over the last two decades, according to a new study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project. Prisoners released in 2009 served an average of nine additional months in custody, or 36 percent longer, than offenders released in 1990.

Over the past 40 years, criminal justice policy in the U.S. was shaped by the belief that the best way to protect the public was to put more people in prison. Offenders, the reasoning went, should spend longer and longer time behind bars.

Consequently, offenders have been spending more time in prison. According to a new study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in prison has increased markedly over the last two decades. Prisoners released in 2009 served an average of nine additional months in custody, or 36 percent longer, than offenders released in 1990.

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