EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE’S NOT REALLY ANY NEWSWORTHY REASON FOR POSTING THE VIDEO ABOVE OF SHERIFF LEE BACA ON BLACK BELT TV. WE JUST KINDA LIKED IT.)
THE CONSERVATIVE CASE AGAINST MORE PRISONS
The latest issue of The American Conservative has an interesting article by Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin about how it is conservatives who are leading the charge against lowering America’s prison populations.
Leading the charge might be an overstatement. But conservative groups are having an important and measurable effect on policy, where all but the most liberal of democrats are lagging behind.
The reform of 3-Strikes in California simply would not have passed had it not been for the help of some of the conservatives from the Right on Crime movement.
In any case, here are a couple of clips from TAC’s story.
Since the 1980s, the United States has built prisons at a furious pace, and America now has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. 716 out of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. By comparison, in England and Wales, only 149 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Australia—famously founded as a prison colony—the number is 130. In Canada, the number is 114.
Prisons, of course, are necessary. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne observed that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil… as the site of a prison.” As long as there are people, there will be conflict and crime, and there will be prisons. Prisons, however, are not a source of pride. An unusually high number of prison cells signals a society with too much crime, too much punishment, or both.
There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.
Between 1992 and 2011, the U.S. prison population increased by nearly 73 percent. To the extent that the recent rise in incarceration incapacitated violent offenders, it was valuable. For nonviolent offenders who are not career criminals, however, incarceration can be counterproductive. As is sometimes said, prisons are graduate schools for crime. This is more than apparent in numerous states where recidivism rates exceed 60 percent.
Unnecessary incarceration of nonviolent, low-level offenders also destroys families. Mitch Pearlstein at Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment has pointed out that incarcerated men “are less attractive marriage partners, not just because they may be incarcerated, but because rap sheets are not conducive to good-paying, family-supporting jobs.” It is common sense that neighborhoods suffering from high incarceration rates also suffer a plague of single-parent homes and troubled children.
This, in turn, leads to dysfunctional communities that are mistrustful of law enforcement. Most American children are taught that they may always ask the police for help. In some American neighborhoods, however, children are taught never to engage with the police.
For this—high recidivism rates, ravaged families, and maladjusted neighborhoods—Americans pay dearly. In 2011, Americans spent over $63 billion on corrections, a 300 percent increase since 1980. Prisons are the second-fastest growing component of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid….
Read more here.
YES, THERE HAVE BEEN SOME ANECDOTAL PROBLEMS WITH REALIGNMENT, BUT THE PROBLEMS WE’D HAVE HAD WITHOUT COULD HAVE BEEN FAR WORSE
I realize we’re starting to get boring on this topic. But a refreshingly sane editorial in the Ventura County Star, gave us an opportunity to harp on this issue that has been dreadfully reported by many journalists around the state (with some notable exceptions, like the LA Times, which has been great).
Here’s a clip from the VC Star Op Ed by Thomas Elias:
As crime statistics for 2012 gradually filter in from around the state, gripes about the 15-month-old prison realignment program have begun rising in newspaper headlines and talk show airwaves.
There are two major complaints: One is that crime rose as realignment cut the inmate populace by more than 24,000.
The other is that some criminals are being released earlier than before the program began in October 2011, in part because local jails in a few counties are overcrowded.
A typical gripe comes from Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the state’s largest police union. “Our members are terribly concerned that we are allowing people out of prisons who are likely to recommit crimes and victimize the people of our city,” he said in a telephone interview.
He claimed probation departments have lost track of some former prisoners, but could offer no specific examples. “All I have is anecdotal information,” he conceded.
It turns out that only one of those big gripes has any proven merit…
Read the rest here.
SOME FINE-TUNING OF REALIGNMENT LIKELY TO COME BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE
California legislators are introducing a cluster of bills, each of which would fine tune some part of the realignment structure put into place by California’s massive AB109.
The Capital View reports:
Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced Assembly Bill 601 to allow parole violators to be returned to state prison for up to one year.
AB 2, authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would return sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison “to serve any sentence ordered for that violation.”
Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, earlier proposed Senate Bill 57, which would make removal of a GPS monitoring device an additional crime requiring a prison sentence of 16 months, two years or three years
WitnessLA agrees that some fine tuning and closing of certain loopholes is needed, but the devil will be in the details. What we do not want to see is an emotional rush to return to the bad old days that produced overcrowded prisons with little or no positive effect on public safety.
PREDICTIVE POLICING: THE PROS AND CONS OF USING ALGORITHMS TO DRIVE PROACTIVE COP WORK
The LAPD has been running a pilot program of a strategy called predictive policing that uses a combination of updated crime statistics, technology and algorithms to predict areas ripe for crime so that police can be ready and move in to prevent crime and/or make arrests in the moment rather than trying to solve the crimes afterward.
The program, known as PredPro, has reportedly been used so successfully in the LAPD;s Foothill Division that now other places like Santa Cruz and, more recently Seattle have signed up as a way to police smarter in an era of budget cutting.
An intriguing article in the Gardian by columnist/author Evgany Morzov cautions that, while the program seems very promising now, targeting crime before it happens can be a mighty slippery slope.
Here’s a clip from the close of his story:
The promise of predictive policing might be real, but so are its dangers. The solutionist impulse needs to be restrained. Police need to subject their algorithms to external scrutiny and address their biases. Social networking sites need to establish clear standards for how much predictive self-policing they’ll actually do and how far they will go in profiling their users and sharing this data with police. While Facebook might be more effective than police in predicting crime, it cannot be allowed to take on these policing functions without also adhering to the same rules and regulations that spell out what police can and cannot do in a democracy. We cannot circumvent legal procedures and subvert democratic norms in the name of efficiency alone.
And, of course, it bears remembering that it was those Masters of the Algorithmic Universe—the Wall Street genius “quants”—who, to a great degree brought us the 2008. So, yeah, full speed ahead, but with ethics intact, and a good hold on common sense and caution.