Public Opinion on Sentencing and Corrections Policy in America (PDF)
Source: Pew Center on the States
1. American voters believe too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on imprisonment.
2. Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.
3. Support for sentencing and corrections reforms (including reduced prison terms) is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial/ethnic groups.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. TANF Electronic Benefit Cards: Some States Are Restricting Certain TANF Transactions, but Challenges Remain. GAO-12-535, July 20.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592788.pdf
2. Software Development: Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods. GAO-12-681, July 27.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/593092.pdf
3. Federal Bureau of Prisons: Methods for Estimating Incarceration and Community Corrections Costs and Results of the Elderly Offender Pilot. GAO-12-807R, July 27.
4. Information Technology Cost Estimation: Agencies Need to Address Significant Weaknesses in Policies and Practices. GAO-12-629, July 11.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592274.pdf
Shackling of pregnant women and girls in correctional systems (PDF)
Source: National Council on Crime and Delinquency
Contrary to official records and statistics, a large number of girls involved in the justice system have been pregnant. In a study of girls in Florida, according to case review data, 8% reported pregnancy in their lifetime. However, when girls were interviewed, 24% reported they had been pregnant (Acoca & Dedel, 1998). Other studies corroborate these findings and demonstrate that of the almost 30% of girls who reported lifetime pregnancy, 16% had been pregnant while incarcerated. Teen pregnancy presents a number of challenges, which increase exponentially for females who are incarcerated. One of the most archaic and dangerous practices includes the shackling of pregnant girls and women. Though outlawed in several states, there exists no legislation to prohibit the use of physical restraints on pregnant women even when in the third trimester in the State of Florida. Twenty-nine percent of girls reported that they had been shackled at the ankles and wrists while pregnant (Acoca, 2004). This practice should be banned for all females who are in custody.
Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains (PDF)
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
“Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains” presents a rare window into religion behind bars. Although chaplains, like all observers, undoubtedly bring their own perspectives and predilections to bear, they also occupy a valuable vantage point as correctional workers who have regular, often positive interactions with inmates and take a strong interest in the role of religion in inmates’ lives.
The survey covers a lot of ground, asking chaplains to describe their daily role in the prisons and to rate their job satisfaction. In addition, we asked them to list the tasks on which they spend the most time and the tasks they consider most important – two lists that are not always the same. We sought their assessments of religious volunteers who come into the prisons to work with inmates, as well as their perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the correctional system, the quality and reach of rehabilitation programs and possible ways of cutting costs.
We also asked for their impressions about religious life in prisons, including the religious composition of the inmate population, the amount of proselytizing and conversion that take place, which religious groups seem to be growing or shrinking, and how much religious extremism they perceive in the prisons where they work. At several key points in the survey questionnaire – which was administered either electronically or, for those who preferred it, by paper – we gave the chaplains an opportunity to elaborate on their views and experiences in their own words.
Their answers suggest that religion in prisons may be quite different, in some ways, from religion in American society at large. For example, chaplains indicate that there is a visible presence in some prisons of small religious groups that many Americans may never have heard of, such as Asatru, Odinism and the Moorish Science Temple of America. (For brief definitions, see the Glossary on page 101.) A number of chaplains also think that some inmates claim to belong to particular religious groups solely to obtain privileges or benefits, such as kosher food. But, on the whole, chaplains had many positive things to say about the role of religion in rehabilitating inmates. Most are also very happy in their jobs. Though the picture that emerges is complicated and sometimes surprising, our hope is that the survey will contribute to a better understanding of the role that chaplains – and, more broadly, religion – play in the lives of inmates.
New Publication: Trends in U.S. Corrections
Source: Sentencing Project
Trends in U.S. Corrections is a visual tool that provides a compilation of key developments in the criminal justice system over the past several decades.
Among the issues featured in this collection are:
- Rate of incarceration from 1925 to 2010
- International comparisons of incarceration rates
- Changes in the drug offender composition of prison populations over time
- Racial/ethnic disparities by gender in incarceration
- Increases in the number of people serving life sentences and life without parole since the 1980s
- Trends in the number of juveniles held in adult prisons and jails since 1985
- Increases in state corrections expenditures from 1985 to 2010
Classifying Adult Probationers by Forecasting Future Offending (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Random forest modeling techniques represent an improvement over the methodologies of traditional risk prediction instruments. Random forests allow for the inclusion of a large number of predictors, the use of a variety of different data sources, the expansion of assessments beyond binary outcomes, and taking the costs of different types of forecasting errors into account when constructing a new model. This study explores the application of random forest statistical learning techniques to a criminal risk forecasting system, which is now used to classify adult probationers by the level of risk they pose to the community.
The project principally focused upon creating a risk prediction tool within a partnership between University-based researchers and Philadelphia’s Adult Probation and Parole Department (APPD). This report details the model building process, including an explanation of the random forest procedures, and sets out the issues in data management and in policy considerations that are associated with creating a prediction tool. The importance of developing strong researcherpractitioner partnerships, especially with regard to tailoring the prediction tool to real-world concerns, is also considered.
The prediction models developed as a part of this project have been used since 2009 to assess all incoming probation and parole cases. Each risk prediction is then used to assign offenders to risk-stratified supervision divisions. This report discusses the development and accuracy of the three generations of models that have been employed to make these predictions, as well as the salient features of each iteration. For the most recent version of the model, the influences of major predictor variables are discussed, with a focus on those that were most powerful in the Philadelphia sample. Additionally, the predictions of the three models are also validated using a sample of cases from 2001, a cohort not used to build any of the prediction models. The long-term offending patterns of these 2001 offenders, with regard to their assessed risk level, are also considered. Finally, suggestions and step-by-step instructions are offered for practitioners seeking to build a similar prediction instrument for use in a wide variety of criminal justice settings.
As a matter of policy, criminal sanctions that are encompassed under the umbrella of community corrections have become an increasingly prevalent punishment option. Given resource constraints, as well as concerns about public safety, statistical risk assessment tools – such as the one developed here – have begun to take increasingly prominent roles in determining levels of supervision. This report, and the partnership supporting it, highlights the promises and potential of the methodology.
Aging prisoners represent a special population that require addressing specific needs, particularly elements concerning adjustment, rehabilitation, programming, and parole (Aday, 1994). Most of the existing literature examining the needs of the aging prison population originates in the United States, and typically limits its sample to male offenders. Consequently, there is a need to examine the different characteristics and needs of older women offenders in Canada, in both a correctional and community setting.The purpose of this study was to: 1) to provide a comprehensive profile of older women offenders; 2) to compare the assessed levels of risk and need of older women and younger women offenders; and 3) to assess the relevance/use of a typology to classify older women offenders.For the current study, the age criterion for older women offenders was 50 years or older. CSC’s Offender Management System (OMS) was used to retrieve data on the study group (older women) and the comparison group (younger women). Both groups were composed of 160 women, of which 54 were in custody and 106 were under community supervision.Results suggest that, older women were rated as having lower overall needs, lower overall risk, and a higher reintegration potential when compared to women offenders under the age of 50. Compared to younger women, older women were found to have lower needs in the domains of employment, associates, substance abuse, and attitude.Looking at institutional misconduct, results suggest that older women are less likely to be victims or perpetrators of minor or major institutional incidents than their younger counterparts. With regard to programming, it was found that older women were significantly less likely to enrol in, or complete educational programs. They were also less likely than younger women to enrol in substance abuse programs, or psychology programs. However, they were significantly more likely to enrol in and complete ‘other’ programs (e.g., chaplaincy, personal development) than their younger counterparts.In order to examine a potential typology for older women offenders, criminal histories were examined. It was found that the majority of older women (80%) were serving time for their first federal sentence. Additionally, 50% of the older women offenders were serving a sentence for homicide. Ultimately, in attempts to delineate older women into a typology based on older male offenders, results revealed that older women did not fit flawlessly into the male typology. A more appropriate typology, specific to older women offenders may therefore exist.
Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of 2011 State Sentencing Trends (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice
Most states are facing budget crises, and criminal justice agencies are not exempt. With fewer dollars available, they are challenged to increase public safety while coping with smaller budgets. This report distills lessons from 14 states that passed research-driven sentencing and corrections reform in 2011 and is based on interviews with stakeholders and experts, and the experience of technical assistance staff at the Vera Institute of Justice. It is intended to serve as a guide to policy makers and others interested in pursuing evidence-based justice reform in their jurisdiction.
Legislatures throughout the United States enacted sentencing and corrections policy changes in 2011 that were based on data analysis of their prison populations and the growing body of research on practices that can reduce recidivism. Although this emphasis on using evidence to inform practice is not new in criminal justice, legislators are increasingly relying on this science to guide the use of taxpayer dollars more effectively to improve public safety outcomes.
In highlighting important legislative changes enacted in the past year, this report documents a new approach to reform in which bipartisan, multidisciplinary policy groups are using analysis of state population and sentencing data, harnessing the political will emerging from the budget crisis, relying on decades of criminal justice research, and reaching out to key constituencies. The result is legislation that aims to make more targeted use of incarceration and to reinvest the cost savings into community programs geared toward reducing recidivism and victimization.
See also: State of Sentencing 2011: Developments in Policy and Practice (PDF)
Greening Corrections Technology Guidebook (PDF)
Source: National Institute of Justice
Greening Corrections Technology Guidebook was developed for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) based on a recommendation from its Institutional Corrections Technology Working Group (TWG).The TWG, which consists of leaders from correctional agencies across the country, has recognized the growing importance of greening initiatives.
This guidebook provides correctional administrators with a brief, yet comprehensive and informative, view of sustainability-oriented green technologies. It reviews green technologies’ evolving role in correctional institutions and presents issues to consider when acquiring and implementing green technologies to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of resource use. It also addresses the opportunities and challenges involved in selecting and implementing green technologies in correctional settings.
The guidebook has seven chapters that provide information and insight into specific types of green tech- nologies.The authors selected these seven topical areas because they include most — although not all — of the green technologies in use in corrections in 2011. Subsections on future trends indicate possible additions and enhancements to the field.
Each chapter contains lists of specific technologies, including well-established and more traditional exam- ples, as well as emerging technologies that have proven effective in saving money and increasing the efficiency of resource use while protecting public safety and staff security.
Facilitating Medicaid Enrollment for People with Serious Mental Illnesses Leaving Jail or Prison: Key Questions for Policymakers Committed to Improving Health and Policy Safety
This brief provides guidance for elected officials and corrections and mental health directors to understand what percentage of the corrections population is eligible for Medicaid and SSI/SSDI, how to identify eligible individuals at intake to the facility, and when to begin the application process for benefits program.
Cruel Isolation: Amnesty International’s Concerns about Conditions in Arizona Maximum Security Prisons
This report describes Amnesty International’s concerns relating to the conditions under which prisoners are confined in the Special Management Units (SMU) of Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Eyman and other maximum custody facilities operated by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC).More than 2,900 prisoners are held in Arizona’s highest security maximum custody facilities, the majority in the SMUs at ASPC-Eyman. Most are confined alone in windowless cells for 22 to 24 hours a day in conditions of reduced sensory stimulation, with little access to natural light and no work, educational or rehabilitation programs. Prisoners exercise alone in small, enclosed yards and, apart from a minority who have a cell-mate, have no association with other prisoners. Many prisoners spend years in such conditions; some serve out their sentences in solitary confinement before being released directly into the community.While the Arizona authorities classify maximum security inmates as those posing the highest institutional security risk, Amnesty International’s findings suggest that some prisoners are confined to the units who do not fit this criteria. The organization is further concerned that many of those confined to the units suffer from mental illness or disability and are held in conditions likely to exacerbate their illness or disability. This report focuses mainly on conditions in the SMUs, but also includes information on other isolation units, including the Lumley Unit Special Management Area at the women’s prison at Perryville, and the maximum custody unit at Rincon Minors, a facility for male youths aged 14 to 17 who have been tried and convicted as adults.
+ Full Report (PDF)
Jail Resource Management (PDF)
Source: National Institute of Corrections
The goal of this training program is to provide participants with the administrative tools necessary to assess facility needs, mange their budget, identify funding
options and request funding from their parent agency.
Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
From the perspective of the nation’s professional prison chaplains, America’s state penitentiaries are a bustle of religious activity. More than seven-in-ten (73%) state prison chaplains say that efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates are either very common (31%) or somewhat common (43%). About three-quarters of the chaplains say that a lot (26%) or some (51%) religious switching occurs among inmates in the prisons where they work. Many chaplains report growth from religious switching in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians, in particular.
Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Nearly three-quarters of the chaplains (73%), for example, say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be “absolutely critical” to successful rehabilitation of inmates. And 78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Among chaplains working in prisons that have religion-related rehabilitation or re-entry programs, more than half (57%) say the quality of such programs has improved over the last three years and six-in-ten (61%) say participation in such programs has gone up.
At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12%) or somewhat common (29%) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and various forms of Wicca. (See Glossary.) An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4% of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19% saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.
Vera researchers found that the total taxpayer cost of prisons in the 40 states that participated in this study was 13.9 percent higher than the cost reflected in those states’ combined corrections budgets. The total price to taxpayers was $39 billion, $5.4 billion more than the $33.6 billion reflected in corrections budgets alone. The greatest cost drivers outside corrections departments were as follows:
- underfunded contributions to retiree health care for corrections employees ($1.9 billion);
- states’ contributions to retiree health care on behalf of their corrections departments ($837 million);
- employee benefits, such as health insurance ($613 million);
- states’ contributions to pensions on behalf of their corrections departments ($598 million);
- capital costs ($485 million); > hospital and other health care for the prison population ($335 million); and
- underfunded pension contributions for corrections employees ($304 million).
Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of State 2011 Sentencing Trends
Source: Vera Institute of Justice
Most states are facing budget crises as they plan FY 2013 and beyond. With fewer dollars available, state criminal justice agencies are challenged to increase public safety while coping with smaller budgets. This report distills lessons from 14 states that passed research-driven sentencing and corrections reform in 2011 and is based on interviews with stakeholders and experts, and the experience of technical assistance staff at the Vera Institute of Justice. It is intended to serve as a guide to policy makers and others interested in pursuing evidence-based justice reform in their jurisdiction.
+ Full Report (PDF)
Life in prison can challenge anyone, but it can be particularly hard for people whose bodies and minds are being whittled away by age.Prisons in the United States contain an ever growing number of aging men and women who cannot readily climb stairs, haul themselves to the top bunk, or walk long distances to meals or the pill line; whose old bones suffer from thin mattresses and winter’s cold; who need wheelchairs, walkers, canes, portable oxygen, and hearing aids; who cannot get dressed, go to the bathroom, or bathe without help; and who are incontinent, forgetful, suffering chronic illnesses, extremely ill, and dying.Using data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Human Rights Watch calculates that the number of sentenced federal and state prisoners who are age 65 or older grew an astonishing 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population between 2007 and 2010. The older prison population increased by 63 percent, while the total prison population grew by 0.7 percent during the same period.Some older men and women in prison today entered when they were young or middle-aged; others committed crimes when they were already along in years. Those who have lengthy sentences, as many do, are not likely to leave prison before they are aged and infirm. Some will die behind bars: between 2001 and 2007, 8,486 prisoners age 55 or older died in prison.This report is the first of two that Human Rights Watch plans to issue on the topic of elderly prisoners in the US. It presents new data on the number of aging men and women in prison; provides information on the cost of confining them; and based on research conducted in nine states where prisons vary significantly in size, resources, and conditions, offers an overview of some ways that prison systems have responded to them. The report tackles some policy considerations posed by incarcerating elderly inmates, and raises the human rights concerns that must be addressed if sound policies are to be developed for the criminal punishment and incarceration of older prisoners, both those who grow old in prison and those who enter at an advanced age.
More Than a Job: Final Results from the Evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities Transitional Jobs Program
This report presents the final results of the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). CEO is one of four sites in the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social and education policy research organization, is leading the evaluation, in collabora- tion with the Urban Institute and other partners.
Based in New York City, CEO is a comprehensive employment program for former prisoners — a population confronting many obstacles to finding and maintaining work. CEO provides temporary, paid jobs and other services in an effort to improve participants’ labor market prospects and reduce the odds that they will return to prison. The study uses a rigorous random assignment design: it compares outcomes for individuals assigned to the program group, who were given access to CEO’s jobs and other services, with the outcomes for those assigned to the control group, who were offered basic job search assistance at CEO along with other services in the community.
The three-year evaluation found that CEO substantially increased employment early in the follow-up period but that the effects faded over time. The initial increase in employment was due to the temporary jobs provided by the program. After the first year, employment and earnings were similar for both the program group and the control group.
CEO significantly reduced recidivism, with the most promising impacts occurring among a sub- group of former prisoners who enrolled shortly after release from prison (the group that the program was designed to serve). Among the subgroup that enrolled within three months after release, program group members were less likely than their control group counterparts to be arrested, convicted of a new crime, and reincarcerated. The program’s impacts on these outcomes represent reductions in recidivism of 16 percent to 22 percent. In general, CEO’s impacts were stronger for those who were more disadvantaged or at higher risk of recidivism when they enrolled in the study.
The evaluation includes a benefit-cost analysis, which shows that CEO’s financial benefits out-weighed its costs under a wide range of assumptions. Financial benefits exceeded the costs for taxpayers, victims, and participants. The majority of CEO’s benefits were the result of reduced criminal justice system expenditures.