Growing Prison Population Could Cost Alaska $169 Million in Next Decade

Pretrial supervision, revised drug penalties and alternatives to prison for low-level offenders are among the reforms needed to reduce Alaska’s growing prison population and high recidivism rate, according to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. The state's prison population has grown by 27 percent in the last decade and its corrections system cost $327 million in fiscal year 2014, said the report, released last month. According to projections, Alaska will need to house an additional 1,416 inmates by 2024, which is expected to cost at least $169 million in new corrections spending over the next decade. The seven-month-long study, commissioned by state legislators, said the justice reinvestment approach followed by many other states could reduce Alaska’s average daily prison population by 21 percent, while still protecting public safety and holding offenders accountable. Alaska's challenges with long-term prison growth are not unique, members of the commission wrote.

The Interstate Hurdle to Restoring Ex-Offenders’ Legal Rights

As states begin expanding opportunities for ex-offenders to fully reintegrate into society—including restoring their ability to vote and serve on a jury—they will need to mitigate the legal conflicts that arise when formerly incarcerated individuals move from the state where they were convicted, according to a study published in the UC (University of California) Davis Law Review. “Restoration recognition has major practical importance for convicted individuals seeking to reintegrate into society and for a nation grappling with the staggering human and financial costs of recidivism. It also has major federalism implications, creating interstate tensions similar to those seen lately in the case of same-sex marriage,” writes Florida State University law professor Wayne A. Logan in a study titled “'When Mercy Seasons Justice': Interstate Recognition of Ex-Offender Rights.” But unlike same-sex marriage, Logan continues, this issue remains “off the nation's radar.” Restoration recognition will have public safety benefits and give policymakers the opportunity to follow policy experimentation from state to state as well as reduce recidivism in the state where an individual was convicted, Logan writes.

Criminal Justice Reform Without Borders

Some 500 people gathered in New Orleans today for a meeting aimed at exploring what one of its organizers called a “transideological” approach to criminal justice reform. The meeting, called “Advancing Justice: An Agenda for Human Dignity and Public Safety,” was sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, an educational group created by the billionaire who has been one of the country's prominent supporters of ultra-conservative causes. Will Ruger, the Institute's vice president for research, said the gathering hoped to go beyond simple bipartisanship. In an interview with The Crime Report, he said “transideological” or “transphilosophical” was a better description of the meeting's approach than bipartisanship. “We embrace more than two viewpoints,” he said.

Has Jerry Brown Changed His Views On Crime?

California's governor traditionally declares his intention to sign or veto dozens of bills that have been approved by the legislature during the month of October. Jerry Brown's vetoes this year have got a lot of Californians wondering about whether their governor has changed some of his long-held views on criminal justice. Last month, for example, Gov. Brown rejected State Bill (SB) 347, which would have created a 10-year ban on weapon ownership for certain people convicted of gun-related crimes. Existing federal and state laws already restrict who may own a gun, but SB 347 would have added three offenses to that list: stealing a gun, receiving a gun as stolen property, and possessing ammunition on school grounds. While Brown's views on gun control have changed from time to time, the advocates for greater gun regulation were dismayed.

A Pivotal Season For Justice, Or Just More Talk?

Will this Fall prove to be a pivotal one for criminal justice in the United States, or just another flurry of talk with little decisive action? Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its most significant bill in years on federal crime, one that could roll back many categories of mandatory sentences that have helped pack prisons and strain the Justice Department’s budget. A few hours later, President Barack Obama welcomed to the White House a new group of police chiefs and prosecutors who have vowed to support steps that would reduce mass incarceration. Next week, as part of a national tour on justice issues, the President will address the largest law enforcement organization, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). His speech promises to be far different from a presidential address exactly 21 years ago this month to the same group.

The “Eternal Criminal Record”

Does intensive criminal record-keeping help public safety–or hinder it? In a forthcoming article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Kevin Lapp summarizes and critiques The Eternal Criminal Record, a recent book which argues that detailed criminal justice record-keeping undermines the chances that ex-offenders will successfully reintegrate into society. The book, by James B. Jacobs, shows how the current record-keeping system in the U.S. “presents a public-policy conundrum for American criminal justice: The more information we collect and share about suspected criminals and actual offenders, the easier it is to identify and discriminate against those marked individuals,” says Lapp, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles—thereby increasing the risks of recidivism. In his analysis of the book, Lapp writes that Jacobs has shown that criminal record-keeping in the United States is “exceptionally public, exceptionally punitive, and exceptionally permanent.” The reforms proposed by Jacobs include improving the accuracy of record-keeping, limiting the availability of arrest records outside of law enforcement and reducing employment discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals.

Who Built Prison America? Not Ted Kennedy

Happily, “mass incarceration” has fallen out of favor, both among policymakers and academics. As Congress considers bipartisan proposals to roll back harsh federal sentencing laws, scholars are examining the roots of these discredited policies. In her book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, Princeton University Professor Naomi Murakawa blames, among others, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Before explaining why I disagree with Professor Murakawa's conclusions, I must disclose that I am not a neutral party. I worked for Sen. Kennedy, first as a lawyer on the staff of the Labor and Human Resources Committee from 1990 to 1995, and then as his chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee until 1997.

Forecasting the Impact of Prison Reforms

A new tool developed by the non-profit Urban Institute aims to estimate the potential “effect, by state, of policies that aim to reduce prison admissions and length of stay for the most common types of offenses.” The Prison Population Forecaster uses data from 15 states, which account for about 40 percent of the national prison population, “to forecast population trends and project the impact of changes on rates of admission or lengths of stay in prison.” Researchers who analyzed prison populations with the tool concluded that reducing mass incarceration won’t be easy. For instance, cutting sentences in half for any individual crime would reduce the prison population by 15 percent or less, the tool finds. “Cutting drug admissions in half would shrink the prison population by 7 percent, or almost 33,000 inmates, by the end of 2021,” Urban Institute researchers write.