San Francisco Called a Model for Ending Mass Incarceration

San Francisco has rapidly reduced its jail and prison populations with a series of “best practices” innovations that have built on California's well-publicized legislative reforms enacted since 2009, according to a research study released today. The study adds its success could serve as a model for the rest of the United States. In the study, entitled “Eliminating Mass Incarceration: How San Francisco Did It,” James Austin of the JFA Institute reports that the combined jail and prison rate of incarceration in San Francisco City and County in 2014 (the latest year for which data are available) was 279 per 100,000­–less than one-half the rate for California, and less than one-third the national rate. At the same time, notes Austin, the crime rate has also declined to “historic low levels,” with juvenile arrests dropping by over 60 per cent during the time period he studied. “If the rest of the country could match San Francisco's rates, the number of individuals under correctional supervision would plummet from 7 million to 2 million,” Austin writes.

Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?

It has been a busy month so far for federal criminal justice reform. On October 1, the Senate unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. On October 8, the House Sentencing Reform Act was introduced. The bills share much in common and have been portrayed as “comprehensive,” “extensive,” “landmark legislation,” a “game-changer,” and “the most important federal criminal justice overhaul in a generation.” But there are many questions about the mechanics of this legislation, as well as questions about the longer-term consequences—such as their impact on federal incarceration levels, racial disparities in sentencing and, importantly, recidivism.

Sentencing Bill: Another Step Toward Federal Prison Reform

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Judiciary Committee chairman, described as “the biggest criminal justice reform in a generation.” The legislation is aimed at focusing costly correctional resources on serious offenders and scaling back the federal prison system's explosive growth over the past three decades. [See Table 1 Below] The support of Chairman Grassley, along with the other Senate co-sponsors, is a strong sign that meaningful reform of the federal criminal justice system may well reach President Barack Obama's desk during this Congress. Among other things, the bill would reduce certain mandatory minimum sentences, expand judicial discretion in sentencing, and allow many current inmates to shorten their time behind bars by participating in educational, vocational or other programs that are shown to reduce recidivism. These reforms would make important improvements in the federal criminal justice system, but they are not novel.

Ten Ways to Reform America's Prisons

In every age and as long as there have been prisons, there have been prison reformers. And for centuries people have been asking: why prisons, do we need them? Who do we want imprisoned and for how long? What should the conditions of imprisonment be? In a lecture delivered to the Center for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame October 8, former NYC Correction Commissioner Martin F. Horn lays out his personal experiences and observations from a career of 40 years working in America's penal system—and offers ten suggestions for reform.

Can We Reduce The Prison Population By 25%?

A report we recently co-authored for The Sentencing Project documented that three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – have led the nation in recent years by reducing their prison populations by about 25%. New York and New Jersey achieved a 26% reduction from 1999 to 2012, and California experienced a 23% decline from 2006 to 2012. While some proponents of continued high rates of incarceration warn of the prospect of a “crime wave” if populations are reduced, we found no evidence for such an outcome in these states. During this time frame, a period in which crime rates were declining nationally, these three states generally achieved greater reductions in violent and property crimes than national averages. Our findings suggest that it is possible to achieve substantial prison population reductions – much greater than the very modest 4% reduction that state prisons have achieved since their 2009 peak – without adverse effects on public safety.

Three States Lead Nation in Reducing Prison Populations and Crime

New York, New Jersey and California led the nation in reducing prison population during the last decade, while also experiencing substantial declines in crime, according to a report released today by The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group. Between 1999 and 2012, prison populations in New York and New Jersey dropped by 26 percent, while the nationwide state prison population rose 10 percent. California reduced its prison population by 23 percent between 2006 and 2012, compared with a 1 percent decline nationally. During their decarceration periods, the three states experienced decreases in violent crime rates that outpaced the nation. Violent crime fell by 31 percent in New York, 30 percent in New Jersey and 21 percent in California.

U.S. Conservatives: We’re Leading Criminal Justice Reform

In a surprise turnaround, the American right has declared that it is leading the nation’s criminal justice reform efforts. Dozens of conservatives gathered yesterday in Washington, D.C., to assert that they are spearheading changes in state laws that will bring down the prison population, simultaneously saving tax money and bringing down the recidivism rate. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the session a “turning point,” saying that conservatives now realize that their drive in the 1980s and 1990s for long prison terms has had the “unexpected consequence” of imprisoning too many non-violent offenders. Gingrich was the opening speaker at the first national “leadership summit” organized by the Texas-based organization called Right on Crime, which assembled an impressive array of prominent speakers. Besides Gingrich, they included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, longtime conservative activists Richard Viguerie and David Keene, and former California legislator Pat Nolan, who announced he is heading a new Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.