Tag Archives: criminal justice reform

On Criminal Justice Reform, Alabama Should Look To Texas

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley recently announced a new initiative aimed at addressing the state’s overcrowding problem,with 23,000 prisoners in facilities designed for about 13,000. The “Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative” would consolidate the states fourteen prisons into four megaprisons, costing taxpayers about $800 million. Amazingly, Bentley argues this is the most cost effective way to handle Alabama’s disastrous criminal justice system.

Instead of throwing money at the behemoth of bureaucracy that the prison complex has become, Alabama should consider an alternative model for reform pioneered by Texas.

In 2007, Texas legislators coalesced around a rare bipartisan effort to slim the country’s most bloated incarceration population. The war on drugs and tough on crime politics skyrocketed the state’s incarcerated population from about 50,000 in 1990 to a peak of 173,000 in 2010. The legislature in Austin was faced with two options—a $523 million prison construction plan or an approach focused on shrinking the amount of people they send to prison (i.e. the root of the problem). Obviously, the tough on crime stance so popular in deeply red states hadn’t stemmed the crime wave in any meaningful sense, so Texas House leaders opted for an alternative strategy.

Instead of placing first-time, nonviolent drug offenders in prison — making them more likely to adapt to the hardened prison culture and reoffend once out on release — Texas expanded drug courts that allowed users to forego prison if they agreed to comprehensive supervision, drug testing, and treatment. The new approach also eschewed the common practice of severe sentencing punishments for technical violations of probation or parole. Instead, Texas’s reforms used graduated sanctions (i.e. increasingly strict punishments for parole or probation violations as opposed to instant re-incarceration) and rehabilitation programs for drug users and the mentally ill.

Texas legislators wanted to send fewer people to prison. After all, housing prisoners is a massive taxpayer burden, with annual cost of $26,000 for just one prisoner, and Americans foot an annual bill of roughly $85 billion for corrections.

Read the rest of this piece in TownHall 

Why Prosecutors Shouldn’t Tweet: The Lesson Of Bill Cosby

Libel, imprisonment, or execution: where prosecution is the public concern, the game of social-media Russian roulette is as random as it is dangerous. Ultimately, a defendant’s fate may be determined by a tweet or a Facebook post. Innocence, guilt, these are only trifling concerns.

Just so with Bill Cosby, whose lawyers filed a motion this week objecting to his renewed prosecution, on the basis that a ten-year delay in criminal charges violated his right to a fair trial. Cosby’s objection is one that may become more common, as his defense team and other attorneys acclimate to a persecutory social media climate uninterested in careful inquiry.

Ideally, in situations like this case, prosecutors will abide by the ethical canon that forbids public statements “likely to increase public condemnation of the accused.” In practice, this ethical restraint is seldom exercised.

The solution is for state, city, and federal prosecutors’ offices to institute bans barring their attorneys from using social media.

Why the absoluteness of a complete ban? For the same reason Batson strikes and Brady violations exist: to stack juries based on race, hide evidence from the defense, or taint the public’s view so they’re incapable of objectivity, can irreversibly contaminate a courtroom. As Justice Robert Jackson aptly observed, “[t]he prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” That sort of power shouldn’t go unchecked.

Other figures, like judges, are severely limited in regards to political activity because of their institutional neutrality. But prosecutors aren’t neutral. Practically speaking, most chase the twin goals of winning elections and maintaining high conviction rates. When those goals overlap, justice may emerge stillborn.

Continue reading at The Daily Caller.

Solitary for Suicide Attempts: The Brutal Punishment of Chelsea Manning

On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning’s additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.

Manning’s case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn’t just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.

In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing “the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries” would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.

Continue reading at Truthout.

The DOJ was right to phase out private prisons, but there’s much more work to be done

Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the federal government will be halting its use of private prisons. Although very few federal prisoners are held in private prisons compared to at the state level, this is still an important symbolic decision in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found less safety and weaker security in privately run prisons than public ones.

Although the libertarian instinct might be to criticize this decision—why should the federal government have a prison monopoly?—it’s worth recognizing that private incarceration facilities have long been mismanaged and fraught with problems, with disastrous consequences for inmate quality of life. This is a step in the right direction: towards the proper and humane treatment of inmates, and away from punitive experiences and over-incarceration.

Private prisons began in the 1980s, largely as a response to the War on Drugs and subsequent overcrowding. Since private prisons are profit-motivated, their operators (in theory) have incentives to run them well while keeping costs as low as possible.

Continue reading at Rare.