Massachusetts Trial Court Offers Evidence-Based Best Sentencing Practices

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The Massachusetts Trial Court departments that have a major role in sentencing have produced sentencing best practices documents. This is a significant achievement. Here is an article describing the key Best Practice Principles. They are the product of more than a year of hard work by broad-based committees and are extraordinary data-driven consensus best practices recommendations for judges and practitioners.  Here is the Superior Court PDF including the Best Practice Principles and Commentary, and the website for all of the documents.

Incarceration of Hispanics in MA

policeline.jpgJuly 2016 Update: The Sentencing Project has issued a comprehensive report on race and incarceration. Here is the PDF of the report (The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prison), and here is the website introducing the report. It suggests that Massachusetts has the highest ratio of disparity of Hispanic to white incarceration; stated another way, the difference between incarceration of Hispanics and whites in Massachusetts may be the highest in the U.S.

Based on 2014 State Prison data The Sentencing Project has released incarceration data by race for Massachusetts. Per 100,000 population whites, blacks and Hispanics are incarcerated at a rate of 82:655:401. For example, 82 whites were incarcerated per 100,000 white population, 655 blacks per 100,000 black population and 401 Hispanics per 100,000 Hispanic population.

These large disparities are typical for the U.S. However, the recent data highlights the disparity between incarceration of Hispanics and whites in Massachusetts, the data shows that the ratio of disparity, for example, between Hispanics and whites in Massachusetts is much higher than in most of the U.S. (4.9:1 Massachusetts versus 1.3:1 National). Here is the document:

Hispanic Incarceration in Massachusetts

The Economics of Crime

money.jpgThe George Mason University School of Law Judicial Education Program presented an excellent program on the economics of crime, formally titled “Judicial Symposium on Using the Law and Economics to Reform the System of Criminal Justice: Theory, Empirical Evidence and Some Applications. There was lots of thought provoking material presented including that incarceration and other sanctions can be viewed much as in torts law, as costs that are part of a cost-benefit analysis. The upshot is that if some of our criminal justice dollars were spent elsewhere, we would have less crime and fewer victims. There was lots of great information conveyed in this conference with the entire program on video on the web.

In particular see the presentations by Jonathan Klick (University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Rand Corporation) on what I’m calling cost-benefit analysis of crime, Paul Larkin (Heritage Foundation) on over-criminalization, and Alexes Harris (University of Washington), on fees on individuals in the criminal justice system. Here is the entire conference on video and here is the entire package of pre-conference materials. Here are some selected notes on the program. This is one of the top programs I’ve seen recently on this subject so I recommend watching the videos. Good work by the George Mason University School of Law, Law and Economics Center and Judicial Education Program and their partners.

 

Cautions on Data-Driven Sentencing

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This article by Cecilia Klingele of the University of Wisconsin Law School in the Notre Dame Law Review cautions against over-reliance on metrics and cost-benefit analyses within the criminal justice system, as she writes:

“Talk of data and efficiencies and actuarial tools is cool and detached, and can rise
above some of the heated partisan rancor that has so long defined and complicated
conversations about criminal justice. The problem is that depersonalization
is just that. It divorces even those implementing reform from
confronting the underlying reason why reform is necessary: not because
prison is costly, but because prisons are filled with too many people locked in
cages for years at a time, not infrequently for crimes that only a few short
decades ago would have gone unpunished or drawn a substantially less severe
sentence. That is an uncomfortable truth. By talking about money and data,
many reformers hope to avoid these hard conversations and jump straight to
solving the perceived problems of an overly harsh and insufficiently rehabilitative
criminal justice system. But there are no shortcuts to culture change.”

Click here for the full article.

Public Health Approach to Incarceration

121212.jpgThis is an interesting article from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty. It gives a public health approach to incarceration, one that is a bit different than those of us in criminal justice system are used to. Here are some quotes:

“. . . Research also shows that even after accounting for material hardships occurring before imprisonment, paternal incarceration strongly increases material hardships for the incarcerated father’s family, defined as experiencing things like having the electricity turned off or not having enough money to make rent.”

“. . . Even when controlling for demographic, socioeconomic, and familial characteristics, parental incarceration is independently linked to a number or poor health outcomes for children, including learning disabilities, behavioral or conduct problems, and developmental delays. . .”

Incarceration prevention includes problem-solving courts and evidence-based probation and parole including the HOPE program.

“Use more nuanced sentencing strategies . . . revise policy decisions [imposing mandatory minimums and elimination of parole] . . . [reduce} the potential punishment of drug offenders and [make it retroactive], and [commute sentences].

Here’s the full article.

What Caused the Crime Decline?

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This small to medium-sized 2015 PDF-book from the Brennan Center at New York University subjects the possible causes of the large crime decline to a multi-variable regression analysis. It suggests that increases in incarceration will not reduce crime, and that the historical crime decline of the last 30 years is due to many factors: What Caused the Crime Decline? (2015) by Roeder, Eisen and Bowling

Shorter, More Targeted Probation Terms?

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Here’s a National Institute of Corrections article that has many useful and well accepted concepts. These include Risk, Needs and Responsivity and other best practices. These are difficult to implement in a probation resource-poor environment. Also note on page 15 that the probation terms cited as examples of best practices are a year or shorter. The focus of the article is dosage probation which is supported by drilling down into the probationer’s circumstances and implementing zero-based probation condition setting; set only probation conditions for which the need/responsivity for which is firmly established.

National Institute of Corrections Dosage Probation Article Carter Sankovitz Center for Effective Public Policy