Nov 102010

The passage of Oregon Measure 70 demonstrates that voters are still vulnerable  those would play on their fears and opt for vengeance rather than restoration without considering their high costs in the present and their guarantee of a greater problem with crime in the future.

MandMinsWILL THE fiscal collapse that has laid bare gross inequalities in the US economic system lead to meaningful reforms toward a more just society? One answer is suggested by the bursting of what might be called the “other housing bubble,’’ for these two years have also brought to crisis the three-decade-long frenzy of mass imprisonment. If there was a bailout for bankers, can there be one for inmates?

It is commonly observed now that, beginning about 1981, during the Reagan administration, the wealth of a tiny percentage of top-tier earners sky-rocketed, while the wages of the vast majority of Americans went flat. A rapid escalation in the illusory value of homeownership soon followed. But an unseen boom began then, too — in American rates of incarceration, the housing bubble in prisons. A recent issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, lays it out. In 1975, there were fewer than 400,000 people locked up in the United States. By 2000, that had grown to 2 million, and by this year to nearly 2.5 million. As the social scientist Glenn C. Loury points out, with 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of all humans behind bars. This effectively created a vibrant shadow economy: American spending on the criminal justice system went from $33 billion in 1980 to $216 billion in 2010 — an increase of 660 percent. Criminal justice is the third largest employer in the country.

But while prisons boomed, something else was happening — a trade-off. As sociologist Loic Wacquant says, the government was simultaneously slashing funds for public housing. In the 1990s, as federal corrections budgets increased by $19 billion, money for housing was cut by $17 billion, “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.’’ State budgets took their cues from Washington in a new but unspoken national consensus: poverty itself was criminalized. Although “law and order’’ was taken to be a Republican mantra, this phenomenon was fully bipartisan, as Wacquant shows, with the most ferocious growth in the incarceration of poor people occurring in the Clinton years. “Welfare as we know it’’ was replaced by punishment. States went prison-crazy.

But the current fiscal crisis has blown a hole through all that razor-wire. State budgets suddenly cannot afford prison systems, which universally choke off funds for education, transportation, and infrastructure… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Boston Globe>

When we take money from education, housing, and infrastructure to pay for runaway incarceration, we are less safe than before, because the help needed to give poor youth a stake in their communities is will not be there, and because of that lack, even more will turn to crime.

I grant you that there are some prisoners who can never be released safely, bit based on what they have done, but based on their unwillingness to change.  Fortunately, they are few in number.  On the other hand there are prisoners like the ones we work with in the 7th Step Club at Oregon State Penitentiary.  They work tirelessly to understand the choices they made that led them into into crime, reform the defects in their thinking that enabled those choices, and develop intervention strategies to prevent recurrence, so they can return to their communities as productive citizens.  We are proud to support their efforts.

Sentencing and release policies that do not take into account such individual differences waste money that could be used far more effectively to prevent crime in the first place and to help former prisoners transition.

Oct 262010

I learned about this in an email newsletter from CURE National.

26key In the current issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, The Sentencing Project’s Research Analyst Ashley Nellis discusses the growing use of life without parole (LWOP) sentences, a sentence that 1 of every 11 prisoners nationwide now serves due to three decades of tough-on-crime approaches.  The use of LWOP is fraught with problems including extreme racial disparity in use and high costs to the public.  Moreover, it reflects a growing loss of confidence in personal reformation.

read article

Inserted from <The Sentencing Project>

It’s well worth the time to read it.

Jun 232010

I trust you will find this news release useful.


Contact: Adam Ratliff – 202-558-7974 x.306 /

Jason Fenster – (202) 558-7974 x300 /,

States can safely reduce prison populations and save money, new brief says

Reducing prison populations and maintaining public safety can both be accomplished while allowing state taxpayers to save money with more effective programs, group says.

opendoor WASHINGTON, D.C. — States should use innovative and evidence-based strategies to trim their prison populations, reduce the likelihood that a released person will return to prison and send fewer people to prison in the first place according to research released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). With many states facing budget crises, important decisions are being made about where money will and will not be spent. JPI found that increasing opportunities for parole and improving parole release decisions, improving parole supervision and ensuring access to support and treatment services are cost-effective means of cutting extraneous spending while maintaining public safety. In FY2008, states spent $52 billion on corrections, money that could be spent on infrastructure, education, housing and job creation, the group says.

“Increasing the availability of parole and making better decisions about who is released is smart policy,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “Options such as medical parole and geriatric release would yield tremendous monetary benefits, ensure people receive the services they need and would not be a detriment to public safety. States could in turn refocus savings toward crucial social services to help prevent people from entering prison in the first place.”

According to For Immediate Release: How to Safely Reduce Prison Populations and Support People Returning to Their Communities, released today by JPI, incarceration costs significantly less than parole supervision and some states are using innovative methods of supervision that are yielding positive results. As spending more time in prison does not equate to more public safety, releasing people early with appropriate supervision can be an effective way of reducing prison populations.

Velázquez added, “The notion that there is a public safety trade-off when shifting public dollars from prisons to positive, pro-social investments is false and has contributed to destructive policies that have given the United States the world’s largest incarceration rate and continue to disproportionately impact communities of color. Releasing people deemed ‘low risk’ to community supervision and providing adequate treatment and support services will improve outcomes and strengthen families and communities.”

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to reducing society’s use of incarceration and promoting just and effective social policies.

To read JPI’s report, “For Immediate Release” CLICK HERE. For other analysis on safe, effective means of saving money and ensuring public safety, please visit our website at

Inserted from <>

As excellent as these ideas are, many of them cannot be instituted here in Oregon, because mandatory minimum sentencing does not permit it.  The cost in human suffering promses to be high.

Kulongosky-cuts Gov. Ted Kulongoski said today he would implement most of the across-the-board spending cuts proposed by state agencies two weeks ago to eliminate a projected $577 million shortfall in tax collections.

“With limited options to balance the budget, and growing uncertainty about federal assistance, the longer we wait to implement these reductions, the deeper the cuts will have to be to bring the budget into balance,” he said after meeting with agency directors earlier today.

Read the report: List of Oregon State agency reductions.

The cuts amount to about 9 percent of spending from the tax-supported general fund for the second year of the state’s two-year budget cycle, which starts July 1. Some layoffs are likely.

Although Kulongoski rejected proposals to close three small prisons and cut deeply into community corrections grants for counties, he let stand proposals to eliminate Oregon Project Independence, halve in-home care for 10,500 seniors and cut federally funded personal care for 1,500 seniors, and others offered by agencies.

“I know these cuts are significant and will impact the lives of thousands of Oregonians across the state,” he said. “But we have to operate with the reality of today and we simply do not have the revenue to fund the level of services approved in the current budget.”

The governor invoked his authority under a 1951 law to cut spending across the board from the tax-supported general fund to eliminate the projected shortfall… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Statesman-Journal>

Innocent seniors are not the only ones who will lose services, because Oregon’s mandatory minimum initiatives tie our state government’s hands, forcing them to incarcerate many who could safely be released.  While I disagree with Kulongoski’s decision, the way he has to juggle to balance the budget would be easier, were he not constrained by these measures.

Mar 152010

News like this is never good.

racial-disp Black and Hispanic men are more likely to receive longer prison sentences than their white counterparts since the Supreme Court loosened federal sentencing rules, a government study has concluded.

The study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission reignited a long-running debate about whether federal judges need to be held to mandatory guidelines in order to stamp out what might appear to be inherent biases and dramatically disparate sentences.

The report analyzed sentences meted out since the January 2005 U.S. v. Booker decision gave federal judges much more sentencing discretion.

For years, legal experts have argued over the disparity in sentencing between black and white men. The commission found that the difference peaked in 1999 with blacks receiving 14 percent longer sentences. By 2002, however, the commission found no statistical difference.

After the Booker decision, "those differences appear to have been increasing steadily," with black men receiving sentences that were up to 10 percent longer than those imposed on whites, the commission said.

Using another method of analyzing the data, the study found black men received sentences that were 23 percent longer than white men’s.

Hispanic men, meanwhile, received sentences that were almost 7 percent longer than white men’s. Immigrants also got longer sentences than U.S. citizens did…

Inserted from <McClatchy DC>

In my opinion, justice demands fair sentencing.