Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let's Focus on People, Not Prisons:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a report stating that the United States has the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens in the developed world and ranks ninth from the bottom in social spending. The report was included in what Business Insider calls a "massive pack of data" from the OECD discussing current social and economic conditions among the world's developed nations.

The United States imprisons 760 of every 100,000 citizens, according to the study. The only nation that comes anywhere close is South Africa, with a prison population of 329 prisoners per 100,000. The OECD average is 140.

Of the 34 nations included in the survey, the US ranks ninth from the lowest on social spending, above Australia, but below Ireland. France comes in at the top, followed by Sweden and Austria.
According to Business Insider, "Social spending is low on pensions, but high on prisons. Health spending is off the charts, but obesity and life expectancy are worse than average."
In spite of the fact that the US ranks low in terms of health care accessibility, Americans spend more on health care than any other nation in the world. It makes up 16% of the US GDP. The second highest is France, at 11.2%.

The OECD is a group of 34 countries founded in 1961 to "promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world".

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Do You Cut Prison Populations And Costs? By Focusing On Parole And Probation:

The Pew Center on the States, which has done a lot of groundbreaking research on criminal-justice policy, has a new report out showing that corrections represent the fastest-growing costs to state budgets second only to Medicaid. The prison population has grown by more than 700 percent since 1973, while costs over the last 20 years alone have grown more than 300 percent. According to Pew, about 40 percent of ex-offenders return to prison within three years -- cutting that rate by 10 percent would save $645 million. Not all the money spent on incarceration was wasted, but the Pew study makes it clear that we're now beyond the point of diminishing returns. Even as the prison population has ballooned, the study states that only about a third of the drop in crime is attributable to incarceration, and notably, 19 of the states in the study that cut their prison populations also experienced a drop in crime. The recidivism rate alone doesn't always tell the whole story, since some policies can make it look like states have developed effective policies for preventing people from reoffending when they're really just incarcerating more people who are less likely to recidivate. There are two states in the survey that bear looking at as starkly contrasting examples. The first is Oregon, which has done an incredible job of reducing its recidivism rate through policies like graduated sanctions. Oregon cut its recidivism rate to 22.8 percent, an almost 32 percent drop according to Pew. How? Oregon focused on parole and probation, like the other smart states: The change in the handling of offenders who violate terms of their supervision was striking. In the past, parole and probation violators filled more than a quarter of Oregon’s prison beds. Today violators are rarely reincarcerated. Instead, they face an array of graduated sanctions in the community, including a short jail stay as needed to hold violators accountable. Results of the Pew/ASCA survey confirmed this—only 5.9 percent of offenders released in 1999 and 3.3 percent of the 2004 cohort were returned to prison on technical violations. Then you have California, which simply re-imprisons parolees for technical violations, which increases both its prison costs and its recidivism rate. Where graduated sanctions are tailored to the violation, California just locks people back up. Most of these people aren't committing actual crimes, mind you. Here's the chart from the report. The light blue are technical violations, the dark blue represents new crimes being committed: Pew concludes that California alone could save $233 million in a year by cutting its recidivism rate by 10 percent -- corrections makes up about 11 percent of California's state budget. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill designed to help cut the states' prison population and therefore its cost to the state, so we'll see how that goes. Again, it's easy to focus on prison costs. But the point here is that when ex-offenders don't recidivate, that means they're more likely to get jobs and be parents to their children. There is a serious negative cumulative impact created by ex-offenders being unable to find licit employment and lead productive lives, one that has a drastic effect on the poor communities in which their populations tend to be concentrated. So states have a public safety and fiscal interest in getting this right, but there's more at stake here than just money. By Adam Serwer Posted 04/13/2011 at 09:00 AM at the American Prospect

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Illinois Proves (Again) That Ending the Death Penalty Saves Money

Thanks to Illinois, we now have more proof: ending the death penalty saves money - a lot of money - and quickly. So what is California (and Florida) waiting for? It's less than a month since Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the death penalty repeal bill, replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole and diverting the cost savings to victims' services. Just two weeks later savings had already reached $4.7 million! And that's just the tip of the iceberg. These first budgetary savings in Illinois came through the State Appellate Defender's office, which is the office that provides attorneys for men and women on death row who otherwise can't afford their own lawyer for appeals. With the end of the death penalty, that agency has been closed. Now the entire budget of nearly $5 million can be directed to victims' services. And some of the highly-trained and experienced attorneys from that office are elated at being out of work for such good reason. The 37 jobs once held by these lawyers perfectly illustrate why the death penalty is so expensive. When a poor person is sentenced to life without parole, the state goes to reasonable lengths to make sure the conviction was valid and due process was met by providing the person with a lawyer and paths to one appeal. But if the sentence is death, the state's responsibility is drastically more important. In order to make sure the state doesn't make the ultimate mistake and execute an innocent person, it provides poor people on death row with attorneys and investigators for habeas corpus, a whole other set of appeals. It's only in this second appeals process that people are allowed to present evidence that they are actually innocent, or mentally retarded, or were represented at trial by an incompetent attorney. And, because someone's life is at stake, capital appeals lawyers must be some of the best attorneys available and have more training and experience than their colleagues handling lower-stakes cases. Illinois had only 15 people on death row but it still needed an agency with 37 staff members and an annual budget of $4.7 million to defend them on appeal. California has more than 700 people on death row--almost 50 times as many. We have three state agencies that only work on death penalty cases, plus we hire private attorneys, costing the state $38 million each year. And that still is not enough to pay for all the attorneys needed: 45% of the people on death row in California do not even have an attorney for the habeas process yet. If California followed Illinois' lead, we could immediately close three state offices and lay off hundreds of death penalty attorneys, saving $38 million just as quickly as Illinois. And that's only the beginning. Prosecutors no longer charged with life and death decisions will be able to devote their time to other cases with lower stakes, saving the vast resources spent on death cases. Jurors will no longer have to go through exceptionally long selection processes to become "death qualified," or attend additional penalty phases to decide who lives and who dies. Those convicted will no longer reside in separate death row facilities with higher housing costs, and will have reasonably limited appeals that will never run the risk of executing an innocent life. In California, those changes would translate into these real dollars: » $4 million saved from cuts to the California Supreme Court» $12 million saved from cuts to the Attorney General's Office» $20 million saved by individual counties» $38 million saved by closing defense agencies» $63 million saved by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation» $400 million saved by avoiding the construction of a new death row Grand total: $1 billion in five years. These are the kinds of savings all of the other 34 death penalty states can expect to see if they follow Illinois' footsteps and repeal the death penalty. But here in California where we foot the bill for the nation's biggest, most expensive, and fastest growing death row, the numbers are astronomically high. Repealing the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole will provide real money right away that can make a real difference in people's lives. by James Clark

Sunday, April 03, 2011

State Budget Crisis Pushes Sentencing Reform

The bills are coming due for years of "tough on crime policies. With crisis comes opportunity as explained here.