Prison Numbers Drop while Crime Rates Drop!.

March 24, 2014Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.05.08 PM

Recent statistics from across the nation suggest that criminal justice reform has become a win-win proposition. The Pew Trust, a highly respected authority, has examined data from all fifty states and concluded that morel than half of the states have reductions in both rates of imprisonnmet and crime over the past five years.

Breaking the data down further , PEW  shows even more impressive results:

  • The crime rate went down in all but four of the 31 states that reduced their imprisonment rates. It went up in one of the 15 states that increased their imprisonment rates.
  • The 10 states with the largest decreases in imprisonment rates had a 12 percent average reduction in their crime rates, and, in the 10 states with the largest imprisonment rate increases, crime rates fell an average of 10 percent (see table below).
  • Crime was down in states that continued with (and paid for) rapid prison growth, as well as those that did not. For example, crime rates in both Arizona and Maryland fell 21 percent from 2007 to 2012. Over the same period, Arizona’s imprisonment rate grew 4 percent while Maryland’s declined 11 percent.

PEW claims that the results reflect several factors; bipartisan support for reduced imprisonment and accompanying reduced prison budgets; strong public support for elimination of imprisonment for non-violent offenders; and evidence based alternatives to prison that have had significant success.

The success of reducing imprisonment and reliance on evidence based alternative to imprisonment are srong indicators that we’re moving in the right direction, and need to increase our embrace of criminal justice reform.

[The PEW article that this story is based on can be found by clicking on the Table above]


Brown gets 2 year extension to reduce prison pop.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.10.05 AMFebruary 17, 2014

A three judge Federal Panel that has been demanding the reduction in  California prison overcrowding has decided to give Governor Brown one last opportunity to reduce prison overcrowding under  a new state plan.

The order from the three-judge panel delayed an April deadline to reduce the prison population to about 112,000 inmates. California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has reduced its prison population by 25,000 by shifting less serious prisoners to county jails over the last two years

Seen as a major win for Brown and the democratic legislature,  Monday’s order instructed the state to immediately carry out a series of measures to either release or move inmates from state prisons. These include: increase credits for nonviolent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates; set earlier parole eligibility for some nonviolent offenders; ease parole for inmates who are older than 60 and have already served at least 25 years in prison; and expand alternative custody programs for female inmates.

The judges also backed a state proposal to appoint a compliance officer to ensure California is on track to comply with the inmate population cap.As part of the order, the court barred prison officials from exceeding the current 8,900 inmates in out-of-state prisons, limiting a tactic the Brown administration has used to lessen overcrowding in California’s prisons.

In a statement, Brown called the order “encouraging.”

“The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” the governor said. Brown has committed the state to spend $80 million over the next two year on rehabilitation and reentry programs that will increase the number of successful reentries into society.


Governor Brown takes next step in Prison Reform

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.06.13 PMOctober 9, 2013

Governor Brown has somewhat reluctantly taken an important step forward in prison reform. While just a few short months ago, he was insisting that he had done all he could to improve prison overcrowding consistent with community safety, he has with the passing of two important pieces of legislation still made impressive progress.

As noted  in the Press-Enterprise, on Oct. 5, Governor Brown signed into law the Trust Act, which bars police from turning over immigration detainees arrested for non-violent crimes to federal immigration officials for possible deportation. While the impact upon prisons may not be immediately apparent, the fewer immigrants held in custody either in state or county facilities (or in state or county facilities leased by federal authorities), the less the need for new prisons and jails in the state.

More importantly, Governor Brown signed a bill, a compromise hashed out with State Senate President Daryl Steinberg, that allows for the continuing imprisonment of some 9,000 prisoners (with the agreement of the three judge federal panel), while over $300 million is spent on drug and mental health treatment, and  other alternatives to imprisonment over the next three years.

If the Three Judge Federal Panel had refused to modify it’s previous order to reduce Cal prisons by an additional 9,000 by Decemebr 31, Brown would have sent the 9000 to private or out of state prisons. But the Judges seized upon the opening to  move the state toward a more lasting and “durable solution to the prison crowding problem”, and extended the  prison reduction deadline until Jan. 27 to allow the state to meet with inmate lawyers and said that they might extend the deadline even further if progress is being made.”

Importantly, as noted in a Press Democrat article, “the court also gave some directions, saying discussions about reducing prison crowding should cover juvenile offenders serving lengthy sentences, inmates being held for federal immigration authorities [addressed in the Trust Act], elderly and infirm inmates, and three strike inmates eligible for early release under an initiative approved by voters in 2010”.

All of the above is an important intermediate step in a process to reform California’s prison system. As noted in my article of February 2013, “The easy part of prison reform”, found immediately below, we are just beginning the process of reforming our sentencing and prison system.





Realignment Boosts Sentencing System Reform




The Best Of: This article, first published on September 24, 2012, describes how Realignment , a reform that requires counties to keep less-serious offenders in-county to serve prison sentences, is being modeled in California.

Realignment, as prison reform, is having an major impact in the development of countywide evidence-based “sentencing systems”. No where is that effect greater than California, where the state is heavily relying on realignment to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court  order to reduce severe prison over-crowding (see NYT: In Califronia, County Jails face bigger load)

California’a AB109 Realignment Strategy has two important aspects:

1) Those sentenced to prison on less serious offenses (typically called triple nons; non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenses), will be housed in county jails (when sentenced to prison) and supervised by county probation departments on LCS (Local Community Supervision). These individuals may not be sent to prison. Instead, they may be sentenced to a straight jail sentence (equivalent to the term they would have served in prison) or they may be sentenced to a split sentence term.  This is where the enormous potential of California’s realignment (AB109) comes into play. The court has the discretion to split the sentence between jail and LCS in ways it determines to be appropriate. The court maintains jurisdiction over the offender and may monitor the offenders progress over the course of the entire sentence; reducing a jail sentence and releasing the offender into the community to be supervised under LCS, or returning the offender to jail to complete part or all of the term upon substantial LCS violation. The degree of court discretion and involvement in the monitoring and supervision of the felon can be extraordinary, perhaps greater than that of any other state. Counties are required to develop collaborative strategies with probation, sheriff’s departments and other agencies and community based organizations, with the potential to maximize the impact of the court, while utilizing the resources and involvement of all collaborating organizations.

2) Starting in July, 2013 , those released from prison will be retained in the community, under Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS),  while under the jurisdiction of the County Superior Court, supervised by probation, to be returned to jail rather than prison when there are violations of parole. Unless they come under a very limited exception for dangerous and violent offenders, they will not be place on parole, revoked under the authority of the state parole board or returned to prison (a limited program currently exists statewide).

These two provisions provide a major opportunity for communities to create evidence-based sentencing systems, that utilize the courts, as part of a comprehensive and seamless sentencing system. Eveyone should be paying attention to what California Courts are doing with their new jurisdiction and sentencing discretion. (see:“A Model Court Based Sentencing System”)

Indiana Reentry Court Gets $1 Million Federal Grant


A recent article in the Evansville Courier Press impressed me with its description of the Vanderburgh Superior Court,  Judges Wayne Trockman and David Kiely and their Reentry court programs, which will receive nearly $1 million in grants and state reimbursements that will allow it to nearly double in size.

Of special note are the Re-Entry and Forensic Courts.  “The Re-Entry Court works with the Indiana Department of Correction to allow felony offenders to serve 9 to 12 months of their sentence in segregated treatment at state prisons and then return to the county in a supervised continuation of their treatment program followed by a period of drug and alcohol probation. It is this Re-Entry Court program for which Vanderburgh County is now receiving reimbursements. Similarly, the Forensic Diversion Court allows people convicted and sentenced on lesser felony charges to participate in a court-supervised program rather than serve prison time.”

Both programs appear to rely heavily on what could be described as a Front-End Reentry Court Model, as they allow offenders, who otherwise would be facing long prison sentences, to spend less than a year in custody before returning to locally supervised treatment and rehabilitation programs. They are an important example of how Indiana Courts, are taking the lead in developing innovative reentry court programs (see article on Judge John Surbeck and the Allen County, Indiana Reentry Court)


Cal. Prop. 30 Guarantees Realignment Funds

Nov. 11, 2012

The California Criminal justice system received good news last week with the passage of Proposition 30.  The approximtely six billion dollars to be raised through proposition 30 will be split between public education and the criminal justice system. (This fiscal year, roughly $850 million will come to counties for prison realignment reform, an amount expected to increase to more than $1 billion next year). Funding in future years will be proportional to state tax revenues (see: Fresno Bee article)

The importance of this so-called “constitutional guarantee” (Propositions can be deemed to be constitutional amendments in California) should not be underestimated. Counties are extremely dubious about state promises of continued funding. Almost fifty years ago, under Governor Ronald Reagan, most mental Institutions were shut down across the state, with the promise that tens of thousands of mentally disturbed patients would be cared for in smaller local facilities (such as board and care homes). The institutions were closed down, but few local facilities were established, creating an enormous problem that lives with us to this day, with many mentally ill living on the streets of California cities.

Those who believed that state funding would be short-lived, tended to favor using the state’s realignment grants to build jail extensions, as it provides a bricks and motor solution to the increased number of ex-prisoners in the community. The “Constitutional Guarantee” of continued financial support provides important support to that segment of the community that want to develop long term rehabilitation based resources for ex-offenders in the community. We’ll watch closely as Prop. 30 impact counties across the state.

Judges Upset at Ohio Prisons for Rejecting Commitments

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on March 11, 2012, reflects a telling change in perspective of some judges and state prison officials, as it relates to who goes to prison and who remains in the community

An interesting story out of Ohio is making waves across the nation (see Facebook collumn on the far right), describes a conflict between some Ohio judges and the Ohio Department Rehabilitation and Corrections. Under a statute that became law last October, Corrections is not required to accept 4th and 5th degree felons (less serious offenders) who are sentenced to prison for the first time. The Department can reject the court’s sentence  and the court must then sentence the felon to community corrections programs, available in their community, before they may send them to state prison. The story suggests that Drug Court might be an alternative the court is required to try before sending a felony drug offender to prison.

The law and its application presents some interesting issues. Does the statute invade the Courts perrogative as an independent, and equal division of state government. Will the Ohio Corrections’ decision not to accept a less serious offender into prison, improperly limit the court’s discretion to sentence as he/she believes appropriate.

These are clearly important questions. The fact that they are being considered at all is a mark of the progress we’ve made in just a few years. For the first time, governors, legislatures, and Departments of Corrections are willing to reject a prison sentence. The reason for the rejection is equally important; the judge in the opinion of Prison Authorities have not given the felon an adequate opportunity to work with community corrections and other prison alternatives in their own community before a prison sentence is ordered.

How times have changed!

Governors get it right and wrong

June 17, 202

As reported last week, the governor of many a state has jumped on the drug court bandwagon. Many support the position that all non-violent drug abusing offenders are in need of intensive drug treatment and an opportunity to receive such treatment in the community, rather than prison. This belief runs counter to what has become an accepted scientific principle, that only drug dependent and addicted offenders need the intensive intervention of a drug court program.While their grasp of the science of drug dependency may be weak, the governors’ willingness to offer a broad  community drug court based treatment plan for most non-violent drug abusers is exemplary (see: NADCP Argues for Evidence-Based Tracks).

On the other hand,  we have governors who apparently understand the science, that drug dependent offenders should receive intensive drug court treatment, but substance abusers (who are not drug dependent) do not need that intensive treatment. While we applaud their understanding of the science involved, we’re concerned that they are not always interested in alternatives to prison for non-drug dependent offenders (or non-drug abusers). We need to provide non-custodial alternatives to prison for offenders who are not drug dependent. Failing to do so will effectively create a second class of non-dependent drug abusers with serious criminogenic needs that are being ignored by our governors. i ask you (and them); why wouldn’t we want to keep non-violent offenders in the community, where they can receive far more cost effective rehabilitative services suited to their criminogenic needs, rather than sending them to prison where all they will receive is a master’s degree in criminology (see: Dealing with the Whole Person in Sentencing: Part 10).

California Plans for smaller, less expensive prison system

April 30, 2012

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has announced its intention to reduce the number of prisons, stop construction of planned prisons, and return California prisoners from out-of-state prisons. They base their plan on the continued reduction in state prison populations (already approximately 22,000), that has resulted from the shifting of less serious offenders from prison to county facilities (see SF Chronicle article on Facebook feed on left)

According to CDCR Secretary Mathew Cate (photo on left),

CDCR’s plan will:

  • Reduce CDCR’s annual budget by more than $1.5 billion upon full implementation, including $160 million dollars in savings from closing the California Rehabilitation Center;
  • Eliminate $4.1 billion in construction projects that are no longer needed because of population reductions;
  • Eliminate $2.2 billion annually that would have been spent had Realignment not been implemented;
  • Return all out-of-state inmates to California by 2016 to bring back jobs and manage offenders closer to home while saving millions in taxpayer dollars;
  • Satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to lower the state’s prison population;
  • Satisfy the federal courts that CDCR has achieved and maintained constitutional levels of medical, mental health and dental care to avoid costly oversight

(For a complete description of the plan and Secretary Cate’s Statement, click here)

The CDCR Plan is not without it’s critics. In a L.A. Times article (click here), Emily Harris of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, said that it’s “not really a bold vision in any way… the state should be paroling more inmates and easing criminal sentences, which would help lower the prison population further”.

Conflicting Views on California Realignment

April 23, 2012

Depending on who you talk to, you will get very different views on the success or failure of California Realignement. Known as AB109, the Reform Act has reduced the number of California prisoners by more than 20,000 since its inception in October of 2011. By that definition, it clearly has achieved its intended goal of bringing down California’s prison population to limits set last year by the U.S. Supreme Court . The beds have been removed from prison gymnasiums (see photo on left). The issue being hotly debated across the state is the cost of doing so.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there has been a reduction in the number of persons who have recidivated in Los angeles County since AB109 began.  “Before realignment, California had a 67 percent recidivism rate. That means almost seven out of every 10 people we let out came back to us (within a year).” Los angeles County now reports a 25 percent recidivism rate over the initial six month period – or about 50 percent when figured at an annual rate (as reported 3/28/2012).

On the other hand, the Sacramento-based, “Criminal Justice Legal Foundation” (CJLF) claims offenders who now qualify for local jail or treatment under AB109 are already being arrested for new felonies, including violent crimes. CJLF President Michael Rushford said these reports are just the beginning. “Just six months since the rollout of the new realignment law, it is already evident that California has become a more dangerous place for law-abiding people to live and work.(as reported, 4/21/12)

Clearly, there is no consensus as to how realignment is affecting public safety. And it is too early to reach any definitive conclusion. What we do know is that California is slowly reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and shifting their supervision to the counties (mostly probation). Some believe that except for the recession, Realignment would never have happened. But whatever the reason, it has reestablished community control and responsibility for the non-violent offender and opened a door to a plethora of community based alternatives to incarceration (as reported 12/20/11).



California Needs Systemic Approaches to Sentencing

Mar. 25, 2012

An ACLU Report (described in two articles in the Face Book Column on the far right),  points to the failure of California’s Realignment Plan (under AB109), to provide incentives to counties that reduce the numbers of persons incarcerated in county jail. The report describes the  state’s dismembering its Prison-Industrial Complex, while supporting the development of a Jail-Industrial Complex. It’s argues that counties that develop successful “alternatives to incarceration”, and/or send a small percentage of non-violent offenders to prison are penalized as proportionally larger funds are provided to counties that  have neither adequate jail facilities or effective alternatives to custody. The counter argument is a simple admission that counties that have not used alternatives in the past and relied heavily on state prison to house less serious offenders, need immediate resources to build an infrastructure capable of working with the returning offenders, both in and out of custody (on the left; a systemic sentencing circle, JTauber, circa 1999, National Drug Court Institute Monograph Series, No. 3, “Reentry Drug Courts”)

California needs to deal both with the lack of adequate jail resources, while creating incentives for counties to develop alternatives to incarceration. One way to accomplish that, is to develop effective risk/needs assesssment tools that can distinguish between those who are a violent and/or high-risk offenders and those who do not pose a danger to the community. Risk/Needs Assessments, once validated, provide an scientific basis for determining the risk of offenders to the community. Working with such tools, a county’s criminal justice system ought to be able to create a systemic approach to the convicted offender, that provides appropriate sentencing tracks that reflect an offender’s degree of risk as well as their criminogenic needs. In the future, counties that develop effective sentencing systems, used in the supervision and rehabilitation of felons, that reduce the jail population, ought to receive substantial financial incentives from the state ( California already has a successful state program that rewards probation departments for reductions in probationer recidivism)

We have developed evidence based practices for the sentencing of offenders (based on voluminous research), but are still reticent to apply those practices where they will do the most good, in making sentencing decisions. Rational approaches to sentencing that provide different levels of supervision, treatment, rehabilitation, and assistance for felons are attainable and in effect in some states and jurisdictions (more on that later).



Held Over 2nd Week: Get To Know the NRRC

I printed the announcement below because it’s important for you to know about funding opportunities available through the “Second Chance Act”, but also because you need to become familiar with the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), and its parent organization, the Justice Center of the “Council of State Governments”. Partly it’s because, the National Reentry Resource Center provides the most comprehensive and up to date information on reentry issues. But there’s another very good reason.

The Council of State Governments represents state governments, as well as their views. It should be obvious that decisions made by state policy makers have a critical impact on state-wide reentry systems. If the courts are to become partners in those reentry systems, it will be because of decisions made at the highest state policy-making levels.  Ultimately, we need to partner with organizations that represent state governments (like CSG), to make our case for reentry courts to the states. [to see NRRC’s website, just click on facsimile on left]

Bureau of Justice Assistance Releases Three Second Chance Act Solicitations

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) yesterday released solicitations for three Second Chance Act grant programs that will provide funding to state and local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes. Applications are due April 24, 2012.

  • Adult Planning and Demonstration grants will provide funding to help jurisdictions plan and implement programs and strategies to reduce recidivism and ensure safe and successful reentry of adults released from prisons and jails back to the community.
    • To download this solicitation, click here.
    • To watch a 2011 webinar that was held for applicants responding to this same solicitation, clickhere.*
    • To download a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation from the 2011 webinar, click here.*
  • Adult Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders grants will provide funding to establish or enhance residential dual diagnosis substance abuse and mental health disorder treatment programs in correctional facilities that include aftercare and recovery supportive services.
    • To download this solicitation, click here.
    • To watch a 2011 webinar that was held for applicants responding to this same solicitation, clickhere.*
    • To download a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation from the 2011 webinar, click here.*
  • Family-Based Substance Abuse grants will provide funding to establish or enhance residential substance abuse treatment programs in correctional facilities that include family supportive services.
    • To download this solicitation, click here.
    • To watch a 2011 webinar that was held for applicants responding to this same solicitation, clickhere.*
    • To download a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation from the 2011 webinar, click here.*

Applicants proposing to incorporate a “Pay for Success” model into their reentry program will receive priority consideration. To learn more about the “Pay for Success” model, please register for the Pay for Success and the Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act Solicitations webinar.

  • Date: Tuesday, March 6
  • Time: 1:00-2:00 p.m. ET

During the webinar, representatives from the Nonprofit Finance Fund will provide background on the Pay for Success concept; and BJA officials will discuss how to tailor your application to include a Pay for Success component. To register for the webinar, click here.

*These 2011 webinars and presentations are relevant for applicants responding to the 2012 solicitations.

[click here: with full credit to the National Reentry Resource Center for use of their text and website facsimile]

Governor Brown’s “Prison Realignment” Plan

EXTRA/Aug 08, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown responded to a three panel Federal Appeals Court order to present its plan to reduce California’s proson population by 10,000 prisoners by Novemeber, as an intermediary step in responding to the U.S. Supreme court decision to reduce prisons by 40 ,000 prisoners by 2013 (article)

The governor’s plan relies substantially on the transfer of non-violent prisoners to county jurisdiction. While the governor claims that he can not move forward on his plan untill and unless additional funds are found to pay for the reallignment to county jurisdiction, the process is already under way.

Well informed sources report that most parole matters will shift to  county court jurisdiction as of July 1st and that $40 million has been allotted to allow county courts to take over parole revocation responsibilites. While everything and anything may change as budget legislation is finalized, it is expected that the reallignment will move forward, if slowly depending on further funding.

We can also expect that all non violent non serious offenses to be resolved with county jail sentences, and only violent offenders sent to prison. Further, that almost all parole violators will be housed in county jail and any sanctions will be facilitated through the auspices of the county probation department, adjudicated under the county court system, and sanctioned through the local county jail (or other local alternative to custody).

No one could have expected such an extraordinary change in felony sentencing, reduction in prison committments, or shift to local jurisdictions. What we are seeing is a huge sea change in how felons are dealt with by the criminal justice sytem in California. And perhaps, to emphasize the point made in the previous article (State Prison Reentry Court RFP Needs State Leadership), changes in how prisoners are handled in a reentry court will only occur when state criminal justice leaders take a strong leadership position. Although it is messy and somewhat uncertain, the movement of non-violent felons from prison to jail based supervision, is an extraordinarily important and encouraging development that should be studied and hopefully emmulated in other states.

Momentum for 3 Strikes Reform in Cal

Growing concerns with California’s out-of-control prison overcrowding is building interest in a possible reform of the state’s three strikes law. Generally considered the most drastic such law in the nation, over 80,000 second strikers and 7,500 third strikers are in prison, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In 2012, according to an article in the  San Jose Mercury News there is will probably be a proposition on the ballot to reform that law. A similar attempt fell short in 2004, but with changed circumstances expectations for success are high.

Cal Pilot Reentry Courts Point the Way

June 13th

With all the interest in California in the return of prisoners to county jurisdiction, it’s important to remember that there is already a major pilot project involving six counties providing supervision treatment and rehabilitation services to high risk offenders with substance abuse and/or mental health problems.

The six California pilot Reentry Courts have been around almost a full year and are beginning to provide evaluation data. While still very early in their development, they report very encouraging results. California reports an overall recidivism rate of 70%. Santa Clara county has been reported to have a recidivism rate of just 20%  (Santa Clara County Press Release), while San Joaquin County reports a recidivism rate of 29% (Stockton Record). Data from other counties are not available yet, but expected to be positive.

As California prepares its “prisoner realignment” back to the counties, we shouldn’t forget or neglect the promising results that the pilot reentry courts are showing and the efficacy of the reentry court model.

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