AG ERIC HOLDER OPPOSES USING RISK ASSESSMENT TO CALCULATE DRUG SENTENCES
US Attorney General Eric Holder has come out against states using certain “big data” risk assessment tools to help determine drug sentences. Holder says that sentences should match the crime, and that using things like a person’s work history, education, and what neighborhood they’re from to determine their likelihood of reoffending, and thus, how long they should remain in prison, may have an adverse impact on minorities and poor people.
Supporters of risk assessment say that the data helps lower the prison population, recidivism, and money spent on incarceration. Many states use big data in corrections, but the federal government does not. A bipartisan bill to adopt risk assessment at the federal level is making its way through legislature, and is expected to make it to President Obama’s desk.
California uses risk assessment by way of “sentencing enhancements” that add time onto sentences, and are grossly skewed against minorities and contribute to our overstuffed prisons.
Times’ Massimo Calabresi interviewed AG Holder and has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Over the past 10 years, states have increasingly used large databases of information about criminals to identify dozens of risk factors associated with those who continue to commit crimes, like prior convictions, hostility to law enforcement and substance abuse. Those factors are then weighted and used to rank criminals as being a high, medium or low risk to offend again. Judges, corrections officials and parole officers in turn use those rankings to help determine how long a convict should spend in jail.
Holder says if such rankings are used broadly, they could have a disparate and adverse impact on the poor, on socially disadvantaged offenders, and on minorities. “I’m really concerned that this could lead us back to a place we don’t want to go,” Holder said on Tuesday.
Virtually every state has used such risk assessments to varying degrees over the past decade, and many have made them mandatory for sentencing and corrections as a way to reduce soaring prison populations, cut recidivism and save money. But the federal government has yet to require them for the more than 200,000 inmates in its prisons. Bipartisan legislation requiring risk assessments is moving through Congress and appears likely to reach the President’s desk for signature later this year.
Using background information like educational levels and employment history in the sentencing phase of a trial, Holder told TIME, will benefit “those on the white collar side who may have advanced degrees and who may have done greater societal harm — if you pull back a little bit — than somebody who has not completed a master’s degree, doesn’t have a law degree, is not a doctor.”
Holder says using static factors from a criminal’s background could perpetuate racial bias in a system that already delivers 20% longer sentences for young black men than for other offenders. Holder supports assessments that are based on behavioral risk factors that inmates can amend, like drug addiction or negative attitudes about the law. And he supports in-prison programs — or back-end assessments — as long as all convicts, including high-risk ones, get the chance to reduce their prison time.
But supporters of the broad use of data in criminal-justice reform — and there are many — say Holder’s approach won’t work. “If you wait until the back end, it becomes exponentially harder to solve the problem,” says former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, who is now at the nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation, where she is building risk-assessment tools for law enforcement. Some experts say that prior convictions and the age of first arrest are among the most powerful risk factors for reoffending and should be used to help accurately determine appropriate prison time.
NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT GUIDELINES FOR TAKING CARE OF KIDS WHOSE PARENTS ARE BEING ARRESTED
The Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police are taking crucial steps toward protecting kids from avoidable trauma by rolling out guidelines and training at the local, state, and federal levels on how to care for children whose parents are being arrested. The guidelines include asking suspects if they have dependent kids during their arrest (a California Research Bureau report found that only 13% of California officers ask this), placing kids with relatives instead of taking them into child welfare custody, and postponing arrests so that kids are not present, if possible.
USA Today’s Kevin Johnson spoke with Deputy AG James Cole about the new guidelines. Here’s a clip:
Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included….
Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines to agencies across the country. It is an unusual attempt to shield children — often forgotten in the chaotic moments before and after arrests — from unnecessary “trauma” related to their parents’ detention.
While there is little reliable data to indicate how many children each year are in need of emergency placement because of parental arrests, [Deputy Attorney General James] Cole indicated that thousands of children could require such care.
“In addition to the legal consequences, protection of a child in these and related situations should also be viewed as an ethical, moral and pragmatic responsibility that serves the short-term and long-term interests of both law enforcement … and the communities they serve,” the IACP concluded in a report outlining the proposed guidelines to thousands of member police officials.
And here are some of the guidelines:
• Officers and agents should be required to determine the whereabouts of children during parental arrests.
A California Research Bureau report, cited by the IACP, found that only 13% of officers in California agencies routinely asked whether suspects had dependent children during arrests. Nearly two-thirds of state departments, according to the bureau, did not have policies to guide them on how or when to take responsibility of children during or after arrests.
• Children in need of emergency care, whenever possible, should be placed with other family members or close family friends, rather than social service agencies or police.
“Custody by a law enforcement agency or (child welfare systems) can have a significant negative emotional impact on a child, adding to the trauma of parent-child separation that the arrest may cause and possibly creating an enduring stigmatization,” the IACP report stated.
• Law enforcement and child welfare authorities should have agreements in place to assist in cases when emergency placement is necessary. In advance of police raids, child welfare officials should be part of pre-arrest planning when it is likely that children will be present at targeted locations.
“In some cases, where timing is not a critical concern,” the IACP report suggests, “an arrest may be postponed so that it will not be conducted in the presence of the child. If delay is not possible, arrangements should be made in advance to have additional law enforcement officers and or representatives from (child welfare services) … at the scene or on call.”
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF TRAUMA IN CHILDREN…
Nearly half of kids across the nation have experienced at least one trauma—an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)—according to a new report by the Child Trends research institute. The report used data from 95,000 households, and tallied eight different ACEs, including having a parent behind bars, economic hardship, witnessing violence at home, and divorce. Nationwide, 11% of kids experienced more than three ACEs (and 9% of kids in California).
KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the findings. Here’s a clip:
Experts say chronic early stress – or “adverse experiences” – in children’s lives can alter their emotional responses, their impulse control and even harm their developing brains.
For the study, researchers analyzed interviews from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health with more than 95,000 adults who had a child in their household…
Economic hardship was the most commonly reported stress children nationwide faced.
Child Trends has been compiling data about children’s well-being for years, but this is their first time using a large enough nationwide sample to make state-by-state comparisons.
THE REALITY OF THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE
At a commencement speech in a corrections facility, Gloria Ladsen-Billings (Kellner Family Chair of Urban Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison) once asked inmates how many of them had been suspended as a child. Every single one of them raised their hands.
Ladsen-Billings, in a talk with HuffPost’s Marc Lamont-Hill about racial disparity in suspensions, used this story to help illustrate how harsh school discipline creates a school-to-prison-pipeline, affecting kids into adulthood.
Here’s a clip from the accompanying text, but do click over to Huffpost and watch the video, which is part of a larger discussion that included Tunette Powell, the mother whose two toddlers have received a whopping 8 suspensions between them:
She explained that schools’ disproportionately large percentages of black student suspensions has less to do with white teachers not understanding the behavior of black students, and more to do with fear they bring into the classroom with them.
“The majority of suspensions are linked to what is called ‘non-contact behavior,’” she told Hill. “Kids get suspended for wearing a hat. Kids get suspended for rolling their eyes. Some of the referrals will say they were ‘disrespectful.’”
Billings explained that the danger of discrepancy between the severity of a punishment and the nature of the transgression plays out in students’ later lives.
LATEST IN THE NY TIMES MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION SERIES
In case you are following the New York Times’ editorial series about ending marijuana prohibition at the federal level, here is the latest offering.