In this article in Metrowest, Leslie Walker and Jean Trounstine warn about the possible consequences of two Three-Strikes bills recently passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate for the already overcrowded Massachusetts prison system. With the prison population average at 143% over capacity and reaching levels of over 330% the intended capacity, these bills will further increase overcrowding and state spending on prisons by increasing both the number of sentences of life without parole and the likelihood of prisoners reoffending by making resources shown to decrease recidivism more scarce. The authors point out that by contrast, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas are reducing crime, prison populations and state corrections spending all at once with smart prison reform reducing sentences for non-violent offenders.
California, distinguished among other ways by having the country’s most “indiscriminately punitive” three-strikes law, has allowed a ballot initiative to go forward that would modify it to exempt non-violent criminals. This welcome change is largely financially motivated: the state’s economy is a well-acknowledged growing disaster and the state auditor estimates the cost of imprisoning nonviolent three-strikes offenders for 25 years is $4.8 billion; further, California must reduce its prison population from roughly 135,000 inmates to 110,000 two years from now to comply with the Court order on overcrowding after Brown v. Plata (see prior posts, here and here). Nonetheless, the editors of Bloomberg news warn us here that this effort will face powerful opposition from the correction-officers union, many California prosecutors, and politicians fearful of the political consequences of supporting it.
Here is a little context from the article that makes the fact that we can expect controversy over this initiative seem truly remarkable: the state has imposed sentences of 25 years to life for third strikes such as shoplifting a pair of socks and prying open the door to a church food pantry; further, “California will spend roughly $10 billion on prisons this year — more than it spends on its once-renowned higher education system” (ouch).
From the Committee for Public Counsel Services:
“Today at 1:00pm, the Massachusetts Senate will begin debate on S.2054 – An Act Relative to Habitual Offenders, Sentencing and Improving Enforcement Tools, a bill crafted by the Senate Committee on Ways & Means.
The scope of this legislation is cause for grave concern. It includes significant changes to the Massachusetts wiretap statute, enhances criminal liability in DNA collection, expands the habitual offender law, adds additional mandatory supervision upon release, and establishes new standards of whom shall be eligible for parole and when. Specifically, if this bill passes, it will:
• Institute one of the harshest 3-Strikes laws in the country by enhancing our present habitual offender statute.
• Increase parole eligibility for those serving life sentences by changing it from 15 to 25 years.
• Lead to fewer grants of parole; leaning more heavily on mandatory post-release supervision and adding nine months to two years to sentences.
• Allow wiretapping of anyone suspected of chapter 94C Controlled Substances offenses and all firearm offenses.
• Expand criminal liability for anyone who does not provide a DNA sample, when so ordered, by changing the standard from “refuses to provide a sample” to “fails to provide a sample.”
• Reduce the school zone from 1,000 ft. to only 500 ft., which does little to offset the “urban penalty” paid by city residents.
• Not ease prison overcrowding, which is currently at 144% capacity, since it maintains mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent chapter 94C Controlled Substances offenses and only decreases slightly the mandatories for some of these offenses.
Please, contact your State Senator to ask him or her to either vote against S.2054 or, at least, vote in favor of the amendments that will provide balance to our justice system. You will find contact information for your Senator here.”
This article describes the major role played by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s largest private prison company, in proposing and drafting what became the notorious Arizona Senate Bill 1070. The language and the title of the bill drafted at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting last December were virtually entirely preserved in SB 1070. CCA, along with other major prison companies and lobbyists, including the Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation, have major representation in ALEC, and 30 of the 36 co-sponsors of the bill received donations from these companies and lobbyists after the December meeting.
This article discusses the economics of the private prison industry, and how it generally exhibits the logic that the incentive to build more prisons leads to legislation and policies that produce more arrests, sentencing and detention, or prisoners– not the other way around. At a time when the practical extension of this logic seems to be exhausting itself even in the eyes of its proponents, immigration detention presents a promising new market and growth opportunity.
As the ACLU recently reported, “private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009. Today, for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue, and their top executives, according to one source, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.” This analysis further questions the conventional assumption that local economies stand to gain from the growth of private prisons, since new prisons may drain local resources without offsetting these costs, obstruct possibilities for other types of local job creation, and because profit-incentives lead to more violent prison conditions, among other things.
From Families Against Mandatory Minimums:
On Wednesday, October 5, FAMM members will join other national organizations and thousands of people across the country in a National Call-In Day. People across the country will call Senate leadership – Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – and ask them to make the criminal justice system more fair, support public safety and reduce costs to taxpayers by passing S. 306, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act.
S. 306 would create a bipartisan commission to review current criminal justice policies and make recommendations for system-wide reform. We believe that any review of the criminal justice system will necessarily include a review (and rejection) of mandatory minimums.
Talking points and contact info available here.
As the New York Times reports today,
After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties.
Read full article here.